Esias Johnson, a 24-year-old held at Rikers Island, was found dead this week after the Department of Correction inexplicably failed to bring him to three consecutive court dates.
Officers at the prison found his body and believe he died of a possible overdose, though the toxicology report from the autopsy has yet to be released. The young man was held at Rikers Island since Aug. 7 for sexual assault, allegedly having slapped another man’s posterior on the subway and threatening him with some sort of syringe in Forest Hills, Queens.
According to officials, some bureaucratic debacle kept them from allowing the man to attend his own court appearance at the Anna M. Kross Center, or pay his bail, which was set at just one dollar.
Esias’ mother, Tracy Johnson, 48, told the New York Daily News that, “He gave them the information and they didn’t listen to him.”
“He had been talking about the court dates,” she said. “He was saying, ‘I’m giving people the info and they aren’t doing what they are supposed to do. Nobody is helping me. I feel I’m going to be stuck here.'”
The family said that they even tried to pay the $1 bail on line, but were told that they were not allowed to complete the transaction until he was seen by a judge. Esias also had commissary money that he could have used to pay the bail, but said that he couldn’t.
“He still needed to be seen by a judge,” said Tracy Johnson, “but they weren’t bringing him to court.”
Jamie Santana, the family’s lawyer, told the New York Daily News that the failure to produce detainees for their court appearances has been an unexplainable yet growing problem at Rikers Island in recent months. Due to staff shortages and a battle between the Department of Correction and the unions, a total of ten detainees have died in the system in 2021
“As more information comes to light, his death was clearly avoidable,” Santana said. “It’s a bad situation there with deplorable conditions and a lack of medical care. While the system continues to play the blame game, people are dying.”
The Legal Aid Society issued a statement condemning the prison, arguing that, “The Department of Correction continues to demonstrate that it cannot house people safely.”
According to the Department of Correction, they found a misdemeanor warrant for a threatening text he sent to someone back in June from the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office in New Jersey. This warrant is what held up his appearance, they said, but for some reason his official court date was never processed.
On Aug. 18, Esias Johnson was supposed to be released following either his court appearance or payment of the $1 bail, but neither events occurred.
“He gave them the information a week prior and they never brought him forward for that or other court dates,” Esias’ mother explained. “If they did, he would have been out.”
For some unexplainable reason, Esias Johnson’s court dates were postponed in the records until Sep. 9 and Sep. 20, although no one was aware of such changes and Esias was never informed.
His mother told The Daily News that he was “a high honors student,” and a “kind, gentle, very uplifting person.” Though struggling with mental health issues, he volunteered at food shelters and even tutored kids at the local Salvation Army. His mother said that he worked as a youth leader at the Granite United Church until the church kicked him out after learning that he was gay.
“He would dance around the city,” Tracy Johnson said. “Everyone knew him as ‘Izzy.’ He was infatuated with Michael Jackson.”
Before the alleged assault, his mother said that Esias “never harmed anyone, never hurt anyone.” He had, “a kind of social anxiety,” and it “was hard for him to have a normal relationship.”
Authorities are now investigating Esias Johnson’s death, and those of the other nine victims at Rikers Island this year.