Kalief Browder endured three years of abuse at New York City’s Rikers Island jail and inadequate mental health care that led to him taking his own life, his family claims in a $20 million wrongful-death suit against New York City, reports Courthouse News. Browder was just “sixteen years old and showed no signs of mental illness” when he was arrested in 2010 for reportedly stealing a backpack, said the complaint filed last Friday. Unable to make the $3,000 bail, his parents allege, Browder endured three years of “systemic and agonizing mental and physical abuse – tantamount to torture” while awaiting trial. The Bronx teenager spent two of those three years in solitary confinement.
The harrowing experience led Browder, who steadfastly maintained his innocence and reportedly rejected a plea deal, to attempt suicide by hanging five times inside his solitary cell. Browder was released in 2013, and the criminal charges against him were dismissed by a judge. He attempted suicide three more times after his release, eventually hanging himself in his family home in the Bronx last year. A month after Browder’s death, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $17.8 million bail-bond reform program meant to keep low-risk pretrial defendants out of Rikers Island. The suit was filed on the same day Kalief’s mother, Venida Browder, died of complications of a heart attack.