A young man who was jailed for three years without trial at New York's notorious Rikers Island jail complex, where he was brutally beaten and kept in solitary confinement, died by suicide on Saturday.
Kalief Browder was just 16-years-old when he was detained in May 2010, as detailed in an account by Jennifer Gonnerman last October in The New Yorker. Browder was walking home with a friend in the Belmont section of the Bronx when a police squad car approached. Officers spoke to the teens and said a man had accused Browder of robbery.
"I didn't rob anybody," Browder told the police. "You can check my pockets." The officers searched Browder and his friend and found nothing. Police arrested him despite the lack of evidence, and he was later charged with robbery, grand larceny, and assault. Browder ended up at Rikers, where he was housed with a group of gang members, though he was not part of the gang himself.
Browder was detained in the prison for three years as courts delayed his trial time and again. He spent two of those years in solitary confinement. Through it all, Browder maintained his innocence. The charges against him were eventually dropped.
During his time in prison, Browder was also brutally beaten by both inmates and prison guards, who were filmed slamming the teen onto the ground while he was handcuffed. Surveillance video taken from inside the jail captured multiple other acts of violence, including one incident where 10 gang members beat Browder.
Gonnerman, who maintained contact with Browder after writing about him, visited his family over the weekend. Browder's mother told Gonnerman her son had told her, "Ma, I can't take it anymore."
Browder's lawyer told The Los Angeles Times that he believed the 22-year-old's suicide was the result of "his incarceration and those hundreds and hundreds of nights in solitary confinement, where there were mice crawling up his sheets in that little cell."
"Being starved, and not being taken to the shower for two weeks at a time ... those were direct contributing factors," Prestia said. "That was the pain and sadness that he had to deal with every day, and I think it was too much for him."
He added: "He was a really good kid."
Watch the VICE News documentary, Institutionalized: Mental Health Behind Bars: