A doctor convicted last month of sexually assaulting patients was found dead at the Rikers Island prison complex on Monday, despite his attorney requesting that he be placed on suicide watch just minutes after his sentencing.
The doctor, Ricardo Cruciani, a 68-year-old neurologist, was found early Monday morning sitting in a prison shower area with a sheet around his neck, according to documents obtained by The New York Times. Soon after, medical personnel arrived to treat him. He died about an hour after being discovered, according to the documents.
Mr Cruciani is the 12th person to have died this year, either while being held in city jails or soon after his release. His death came about two weeks after a jury found him guilty of 12 counts of predatory sexual assault, sexual abuse, rape and other crimes, stemming from his treatment of six patients he seen around 2012.
In a statement, New York City Department of Corrections Commissioner Louis A. Molina said he was “deeply saddened to learn of the death of this individual in custody.”
“We will conduct a preliminary internal examination to determine the circumstances surrounding his death,” he said in the statement, which did not identify Mr. Cruciani. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to his loved ones.”
The Crisis at Rikers Island
Amid the pandemic and a staffing emergency, New York’s main prison complex has been dragged into an ongoing crisis.
The Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to questions about the circumstances surrounding the death or whether Mr. Cruciani had been placed on suicide watch, as requested by his attorney and the judge presiding over his trial.
“Ricardo’s lawyers and family are shocked and saddened beyond belief to learn of his violent death while in police custody this morning,” said Mr. Cruciano’s lawyer, Frederick Sosinsky. , in a press release.
Mr. Sosinsky said that after his request in the courtroom, the judge ordered the Department of Correction to place Mr. Cruciani in protective custody and on suicide watch, during which he would have been monitored 24 24 hours a day, even when using the bathroom.
“None of these conditions have, to our knowledge, ever been met,” Mr Sosinky said. He called for an investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Cruciani’s death, including why the Department of Corrections failed to follow court orders.
Mr. Cruciani was being held in a general population dorm at the understaffed Eric M. Taylor Center, according to an official familiar with the events who spoke on anonymity to speak on the matter without permission.
A second official said Mr Cruciani entered the shower area at 4:23 a.m. and was found unconscious at 5:35 a.m. by the officer supervising the living area. Officers are expected to visit the area every 30 minutes, but it’s unclear if that happened, the official said.
Mr. Cruciani’s death raises questions about why he was not under heightened surveillance and draws new attention to the problems at the Eric M. Taylor Center, which has become increasingly chaotic since he was became a processing center for new inmates last September, according to prison staff and prisoner advocates.
Mr. Cruciani was due to be sentenced on September 14 and could have been sentenced to life in prison. He also faced federal charges in Manhattan and state charges for similar behavior in New Jersey.
During his trial in the New York State Supreme Court, prosecutors said Mr. Cruciani, who once had a reputation as a likeable and brilliant doctor with a special gift for treating chronic pain, had engaged in a pattern of unwanted behavior with several women he treated. .
At first, Mr. Cruciani would hug his patients too tightly or run his fingers through their hair, prosecutors said. Eventually, his behavior would escalate and he would grope women without permission, and force them to have sex or perform other sexual acts. In lawsuits, some women accused him of prescribing excessive painkillers that made them dependent on him.
Hillary Tullin, a former patient of Mr Cruciani who said he assaulted her on several occasions, said in an interview on Monday that while she felt sorry for her children, she also felt “for all the victims who will not have never get the chance to face him.”
“He finally understood that there was no way out,” she said. “The jurors believed what we were saying. It was real. He was going to prison for life.
Mr Cruciani was first arrested in Pennsylvania in 2017, but after pleading guilty to a deal with Philadelphia prosecutors that required him to give up his medical license, he was able to avoid jail time. The following year, he was charged with criminal charges in Manhattan. His trial was delayed due to the pandemic, but began at the end of June this year. After his sentencing in July, he was sent to Rikers Island to await sentencing.
The prison complex, which is due to close by 2027, has been troubled for decades, but the coronavirus pandemic has compounded the problems as hundreds of corrections officers failed to show up for work. Understaffing has contributed to a cascade of problems, including basic treatment of new arrivals.
At the end of summer 2021, those incarcerated were held for weeks in reception cells, including showers. After touring the prison complex, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio said that one of his top priorities speed up the admissions process. But that process appears to have slowed again — and a third of those who died in city jails this year were held at the Eric M. Taylor Center.
William K. Rashbaum, Roni Caryn Rabin and Troy Closson contributed report.