A doctor found guilty of sexually abusing patients last month was found dead at the Rikers Island prison complex on Monday, though his lawyer had called for him to be put on suicide watch just minutes after he was convicted.
The doctor, Ricardo Cruciani, a 68-year-old neurologist, was found early Monday morning in a prison shower room with a sheet around his neck, according to documents obtained by The New York Times. Shortly afterwards, the medical staff arrived to take care of him. He died about an hour after he was discovered, the documents show.
Mr Cruciani is the 12th person to have died this year while incarcerated in the city jails or shortly after he was released. His death came about two weeks after a jury found him guilty of 12 counts of predatory assault, sexual assault, rape and other crimes, as a result of his treatment of six patients he saw around 2012.
In a statement, New York City Department of Correction Commissioner Louis A. Molina said he was “deeply saddened to learn that this person has died in custody.”
“We will conduct a preliminary internal assessment 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 on Rikers Island
Amid the pandemic and a personnel emergency, New York City’s main prison complex is embroiled in an ongoing crisis.
The Department of Correction 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 attorneys and family are shocked and incredibly saddened to learn this morning of his violent death while in custody,” Cruciani’s attorney Frederick Sosinsky said in a statement.
Mr. Sosinsky said that after his request in court, the judge ordered the Department of Correction to place Mr. Cruciani in protective custody and put on suicide watch, where he would be supervised 24 hours a day, even while using the bathroom.
“None of these conditions, to our knowledge, has ever been met,” said Mr. Sosinky. He called for an investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Cruciani, including why the Department of Correction did not follow the court’s orders.
Mr. Cruciani was held in an Eric M. Taylor Center general dormitory that was understaffed, according to an official familiar with the events who had been given anonymity to speak about the matter without permission.
A second officer said Mr Cruciani entered the shower room at 4:23 am and was unresponsive at 5:35 am by the officer overseeing the living quarters. Officers are expected to scout 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 increased surveillance and draws new attention to the problems at the Eric M. Taylor Center, which prison officials and inmate advocates say.
Mr Cruciani was 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 that Mr. Cruciani, who once had a reputation as a sympathetic and brilliant physician with a special gift for treating chronic pain, had displayed a pattern of undesirable behavior with several women he treated. .
Initially, 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 the women without permission and force them to have intercourse or perform other sexual acts. In lawsuits, some women accused him of prescribing too much pain medication that made them dependent on him.
Hillary Tullin, a former patient of Mr Cruciani who said he had assaulted her multiple times, said in an interview Monday that while she felt sorry for his children, she also felt “for all the victims who will never get a chance to confront her.” to engage with him.”
“Finally it dawned on him that there was no way out,” she said. “The judges believed what we said. It was real. He would go to jail for life.”
One of his other former patients, Terrie Phoenix, said, “I take comfort in the knowledge that he now faces a different judge.”
Cruciani was first arrested in Pennsylvania in 2017, but after pleading guilty in a deal with Philadelphia prosecutors that required him to surrender his medical license, he was able to avoid jail time. The following year, he was criminally charged in Manhattan. His trial was delayed due to the pandemic, but began at the end of June this year. Following his conviction in July, he was sent to Rikers Island pending sentencing.
The prison complex, expected to close in 2027, has been struggling for decades, but the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the problems as hundreds of correctional officers failed to show up for work. The lack of staff has contributed to a cascade of problems, including the basic processing of new entrants.
In the late summer of 2021, detainees were held for weeks in admission cells, including shower rooms. After visiting the prison complex, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio said one of his top priorities was to speed up the admissions process. But that process appears to have slowed down again — and a third of those who have died in city jails this year were held at the Eric M. Taylor Center.
William K. Rashbaum, Roni Caryn Rabin and Troy Closson reporting contributed.