A Bronx man who had been held at Rikers Island since July died Friday shortly after a judge granted him emergency release, his attorney said.
The death of Victor Mercado was the 13th in the beleaguered city jail system this year.
Mercado, 64, of Mott Haven, died at Elmhurst Hospital after spending the majority of the time since his arrest on gun charges in the Rikers infirmary, his attorney, James A. Kilduff, told the Post. It is believed he died from COVID-19, after contracting the deadly bug at Rikers.
Kilduff said Mercado suffered from underlying health conditions and had been using a wheelchair in recent weeks. “I thought that because he was in the infirmary for his other conditions, I just assumed that was better for him,” the lawyer said. He was unaware of the unsafe conditions at the jail complex’s medical facility, he said.
The Department of Correction confirmed that Mercado died at Elmhurst at 12:39 p.m. Friday. His death appeared to be “medical in nature,” and the city Medical Examiner will determine the cause of death, a Corrections rep said.
“I am heartbroken to learn of Mr. Mercado’s passing, and we mourn his loss together as a city,” DOC Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said in a statement. “While city officials are working quickly to identify the cause of death, our department is more committed than ever to improve safety across the jail system for staff and detainees.”
The ME’s office Saturday said the cause of death is pending further study.
Kilduff said he learned Mercado had contracted COVID-19 on Wednesday night when he spoke with Mercado’s family. He spoke on the phone with his client Thursday after he was transferred to Elmhurst Hospital. “He didn’t sound good,” the attorney said. “He sounded frightened. He said to me, ‘Jim, you’ve got to help, try to get me out of here.’”
Kilduff said he contacted the Bronx District Attorney’s office Friday morning, and the DA agreed to make an emergency compassionate release application to the court. They appeared on video before the judge at noon, and the application was granted.
A short time later, he heard from Mercado’s brother that it was too late.
Mercado didn’t have to die, Kilduff said.
He had appeared in court on Sept. 27 in a wheelchair as Kilduff sought to have the previously set $100,000 bail lowered. But the judge didn’t budge despite the attorney’s argument that the amount was beyond Mercado’s family’s means and that his age and health status supported lower bail.
“I really though that because of his underlying condition and his age, I had a compelling argument for the court to lower his bail,” Kilduff said.
Mercado’s death comes amid a chaotic breakdown at Rikers that extends from inmates attacking one another amid staffing shortages to complaints that inmates are not getting proper medical care.
“I’m not going to deny that there are serious problems here,” Schiraldi said at a news conference last month.
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams called the situation an “ongoing humanitarian crisis.”
“Lives are continuing to be lost as our leaders take steps that are too small and too slow,” he said.