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NYPD Not Doing Enough to Prevent Detainee Suicides, State Finds

By Rosa Goldensohn | October 27, 2015 7:31am
 The NYPD does not sufficiently screen its detainees for suicidal tendencies before locking them up, state investigators found.
The NYPD does not sufficiently screen its detainees for suicidal tendencies before locking them up, state investigators found.
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DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — The NYPD has not been doing enough to prevent the suicides of detainees in its custody, state investigators found, leading to the hanging deaths of three men in its care.

NYPD officers failed to screen for psychiatric problems, remove suspects' belts or remove other potential weapons from their cells, or check on them at required intervals before three men killed themselves in police custody in 2013, according to reports from the State Commission of Correction.

“The NYPD presently does not participate in any suicide prevention screening,” SCOC commissioner Phyllis Harrison-Ross wrote in her March 2015 report about the suicide of Igor Reznik inside Brooklyn's 61st Precinct in Sheepshead Bay.

“It is noted that had the NYPD been utilizing the New York State Crisis Service Model’s Suicide Prevention Screening Guidelines, it is possible that four suicide risk factors could have been identified,” she added in the documents, which were obtained by DNAinfo New York via a Freedom of Information Law request.

She recommended that the NYPD adopt the state's suicide prevention procedures and train staff in suicide prevention as soon as possible.

A spokesman for NYPD said those entering booking facilities are psychologically screened, but did not address the issue of screenings at precincts.

"Prisoners entering borough booking facilities are medically and psychologically screened by medical professionals," he said in a statement. "Those prisoners requiring treatment are removed to the appropriate medical facility."

Reznik, Charles Kohm, 57, and Ronald Harris were all arrested on low-level misdemeanor charges — and each hanged himself within a day of being arrested, Harrison-Ross said.

Reznik, 29, was arrested for the possession of ketamine after failing to use his turn signal while driving around at 4:15 a.m. on Sept. 5, 2013. He told his arresting officer that "he was having problems with his girlfriend and was driving around to clear his mind," according to the report. His father had recently died of cancer, he was showing signs of depression and he appeared panicked, angry or afraid — all suicidal indicators — according to the report.

An officer brought him to the 61st Precinct stationhouse, where police checked on him in lockup sometime between 4:30 and 5 a.m., according to the report. The next check happened at 5:45 a.m. — longer than the half-hour cap detainees are supposed to go between visits — by which time Reznik was found hanging from the top cell bar by his tank top. The officers cut him off with scissors and called EMS, but it was too late to save him.

Investigators said they had similar concerns with the arrest of Ronald Harris, who was stopped near Baltic Street in Brooklyn for being in a park after dark Oct. 12, 2013. Officers found him carrying an open container of beer and marijuana cigarettes in his back pocket.

He was arrested and brought to the 76th Precinct stationhouse and was later placed alone in a court holding cell, where he hanged himself sitting down with a belt looped around the cell door.

Kohm was picked up for trespassing April 18, 2013, while trying to enter the basement of a Staten Island bar, according to the report. He was found hanged by a belt in the 120th Precinct stationhouse within hours of his arrest.