Esias Johnson

Photo of Esias Johnson, a young black man with frizzy hair and large, dark-rimmed glasses on a wide nose. He is wearing a light cotton hoodie, and holding his chin in his hand in a contemplative manner.Name: Esias Johnson.
Died: September 7, 2021.
Age at death: 24.
Cause of death: Death in custody.
Location: New York City, New York, USA.

Esias was born one of six boys in his family. He was very good at schoolwork. In his free time, he volunteered at food pantries and at an organization that helps the blind, and tutored children after school. Esias loved to dance and sing; his favorite musicians were Whitney Houston, Cher, Prince, and Michael Jackson. When he came out as gay, his parents threw him a coming-out party; but the church where he worked as a youth leader expelled him.

As an adult, Esias moved to New York City, drawn by the lights and excitement and hoping for a music career. His mental illness worsened, and his social clumsiness made him come off as creepy to potential dates. He was arrested multiple times, though never convicted of a crime. He received occasional counseling, but no other help.

When he died, he had been arrested on a misdemeanor charge of menacing; police say he slapped a man on the butt on the subway and chased him into a bank with a syringe. $1 bail was all that stood between him and freedom. He tried to pay it with commissary money, and his family repeatedly tried to pay it; but jail staff continually failed to set up his court dates, and Esias stayed in jail.

His body was found in his cell at Rikers Island. Authorities say he must have died of a drug overdose–though toxicology results have yet to come in. Esias’s family believes he died from medical neglect at Rikers; they spoke to other inmates, who reported that Esias had been complaining of stomach pain and asking for medical attention for days, and had been ignored.

Three corrections officers have been suspended. Esias’s family has hired a lawyer to look into conditions at Rikers Island, where Esias became the 9th fatality of 2021.

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K. D.

Name: K. D.
Died: April 23, 2020.
Age at death: 30.
Cause of death: COVID.
Location: Forest Hills, Queens, New York City, New York, USA.

K. D. was a Filipino-American inmate at Rikers Island, having violated his probation for possession of child porn. Before he was imprisoned, he lived with his mother, father, and younger sister. He had autism, depression, and an anxiety disorder, as well as asthma, gout, and sleep apnea. In prison, he had to go into protective custody because, due to his charges, he was in danger of violence from other inmates. He was placed in a medical unit so that he could have access to his CPAP machine, a non-invasive ventilator that keeps sleep apnea patients breathing during the night.

K.D. began having symptoms of COVID and tested positive, but the 39-bed medical dorm he was housed in for the first six days after his diagnosis, and which was more than half full, was not a COVID ward. From this we can conclude that staff did not particularly care whether their prisoners spread COVID to one another.

Despite the fact that K.D. had asthma and sleep apnea staff took away his CPAP machine and would not give him nebulizer treatments. Their rationale was that these could spread COVID. (See above: They also put infected patients in the same ward with non-infected patients, making it doubtful that their main motivation was to slow the spread of COVID.)

K.D. had trouble getting the simplest of medical treatments, reporting to his mother that he couldn’t even get Tylenol for his fever. They also did not tell K.D. that he had COVID for two days after he was diagnosed. Only when he went into respiratory distress was he taken to Bellevue Hospital.

At Bellevue, K.D. was finally allowed his nebulizer treatments and CPAP, but his health declined steadily. He was able to talk to his mother on the phone, who began advocating for him to be granted compassionate release. But by the time a formal hearing was convened, K.D. was already on a ventilator and could not be moved. About two weeks later, he died from COVID at the age of 30.

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Binh La

Name: Binh La.
Died: May 5, 2019.
Age at death: 28.
Cause of death: Neglect (Malnutrition, denied needed medication).
Location: Hartford, Connecticut, USA.

Binh La’s mother, having had another child die in a state facility, changed his day program multiple times in an effort to get him better services. But his father became his sole caregiver after his mother’s mental illness worsened and she was committed to an institution.

Binh was known to the state department of developmental services, which “substantiated” a neglect complaint that Binh had arrived filthy and underdressed for cold weather at his day program. His father petitioned for residential care for Binh over the next few months, but was denied.

Binh died from a seizure with no trace of his prescribed epilepsy medication in his body and the prescription unfilled for 11 months. His malnourished body weighed only 85 pounds. The refrigerator in his house was nearly empty, and the freezer tied shut.

His father pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and negligent cruelty to a person and was sentenced to 2 years probation.

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Siân Hewitt

Smiling young woman with long blond hair and horn-rimmed glasses.Name: Siân Hewitt.
Died: April 6, 2019.
Age at death: 25.
Cause of death: Medical neglect (Delayed treatment for pulmonary embolism).
Location: Eaglestone, England, UK.

One of Siân’s colleagues wrote an article about her after she died. In it, he says:

“Siân had joined my team as a summer intern. She was qualified to the hilt. A 1st class degree. Experience volunteering, experience writing newspaper leaders, experience in live social media at the Guardian. Travel alone to India, a catalogue of interjections to support others and tackle injustices, an excellent written style. She was in.

“…[W]orking with her and subsequently mentoring her, what I never appreciated until her funeral was just how brave Siân was. She was fearless but full of fear.

“EVERY decision she made was peppered by doubt and anxiety. What to wear. How to travel. What she’d do that day. What situations she’d find herself in. EVERY moment full of paralysing angst. It’s hard to imagine.

But she didn’t just take these feelings lying down, she continually mustered an unbelievable sense of purpose and strength to overcome them. As a result her short life was a monumental patchwork of tiny successes built from a thousand battles she had won within herself day after day after day.”

Siân had bipolar disorder as well as Asperger’s, and she had to be hospitalized when she had a manic episode. However, when she was hospitalized, she became gradually more and more ill, and none of the staff–though they had had training in spotting the signs of physical illness–were able to detect Siân’s problem. Then, when she collapsed, they delayed administering CPR.

Siân died of a pulmonary embolism–a blockage in the blood vessels of the lung. People with bipolar disorder are known to be at increased risk.

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Antoin Hawes Jr.

Name: Antoin Hawes Jr.
Died: May 13, 2018.
Age at death: 28.
Cause of death: Medical neglect (Untreated pneumonia).
Location: Augusta, Georgia, USA.

Antoin’s parents kept him locked in a room with the window boarded up, chained by his ankle. He had to sleep on old couch cushions wrapped in garbage bags and use a bucket for a toilet. There were no lights, no heating, and no air conditioning. When he got sick, they didn’t get him medical help. By the time an ambulance was finally called, he had died of pneumonia.

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