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Rikers Inmate Spent His Brief Escape Hiding in Bushes

The officers involved have not been named publicly and it is unclear what, if any, disciplinary action they face.


Naquan Hill was missing for seven hours before being found in bushes near the wall he went over. Credit New York State Department of Corrections

The attempted escape came in a time of turmoil for the Correction Department. Last month, the commissioner, Joseph Ponte, stepped down after a series of damaging revelations by the city’s Department of Investigation. First, Mr. Ponte and members of his staff were found to have misused their official vehicles. City investigators also concluded that Mr. Ponte’s head of internal affairs had been eavesdropping on investigators’ phone calls with confidential informers.

The city has yet to hire Mr. Ponte’s successor. The Correction Department’s top uniformed officer also stepped down abruptly in June.

There was never much chance that Mr. Hill would escape Rikers Island itself, officials said. The complex, a series of self-contained buildings surrounded by walls topped with razor wire, is on an island in the East River and is connected to Queens by a narrow bridge. Even if Mr. Hill had made it through all of the complex’s checkpoints and gates, he would have been forced to contend with the river’s swirling currents, a natural security feature that will not figure in the new jails envisioned as part of Mr. de Blasio’s plan to shut down Rikers a decade from now.

Several Rikers inmates have attempted to swim to freedom over the past several decades. In 1971, police officers fished three young inmates out of the river a half-mile from the Bronx shoreline.

In 1987, another inmate, James DiGuglielmo, did make it off the island, only to be shot and killed a month later on Staten Island.

Mr. Hill never came close to actually getting away. Shortly after he disappeared, officials launched an extensive search involving special units from the Correction Department, the State Police, the Port Authority Police and the New York Police Department. Officers moved quickly to seal the perimeter of the island and began to scour the area with K-9 units as a Police Department helicopter hovered overhead.

After about seven hours of searching, Mr. Hill was found in a patch of bushes near an unused building, not far from the wall he had scaled, officials said. The dogs were sent in to flush him out. When he ran, two officers tackled him.

“Thanks to an immediate island-wide lockdown, along with a large-scale intensive search operation from land, air and water in coordination with our law enforcement partners, D.O.C. staff were able to quickly return this inmate to custody within a matter of hours,” the Correction Department said in a statement.

Correction: July 27, 2017

An earlier version of this article misstated the circumstances of a former Rikers Island inmate’s death. James DiGuglielmo was shot and killed a month after escaping in 1987, but not by police officers.

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Source: New York Times



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