Report: Man was dead in Rikers Island cell, and rigor mortis was setting in before anyone noticed 

One rookie corrections officer has been fired in connection with the death and several others reportedly have been suspended.

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A New York inmate died Sunday in a Rikers Island jail cell, and his body had already begun to show signs of rigor mortis by the time he was discovered. 

According to the New York Times, Elijah Muhammad, 31, appeared to have suffered from a drug overdose. It is not clear how long he lay dead in his cell, but rigor mortis begins to set in at least two hours after death. 

Someone walks by a sign at the entrance to Rikers Island in New York City, where an inmate died Sunday in a jail cell. His body had already begun to show signs of rigor mortis by the time it was discovered. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Muhammad had been held at the George R. Vierno Center, a high-security jail on Rikers Island, since June after being arrested on an assault charge.

A rookie corrections officer has been fired in connection with the incident, and several other officers have been suspended, according to the Times’ sources. 

Over the past two years, slashings, stabbings and drug overdoses at the massive prison have been on the rise despite repeated pledges to enact reforms. In addition to the violence, some detainees have gone without food or medical care. The jail is also understaffed, and guards reportedly struggle to keep order. 

At a Tuesday meeting of the New York City Board of Correction, Correction Department Commissioner Louis A. Molina said the conditions at the prison are the result of “a generation” of mismanagement. “I’m doing everything in my power everyday as a person of color to reform what this administration has inherited,” he said, per the Times.

The majority of those who work or are housed on Rikers Island are Black or Hispanic. 

Muhammad — the 10th person to die in the prison this year — had been receiving mental health treatment, the Times reported. Just days before his death, he reportedly had been in isolation for more than 32 hours even though department policy forbids detainees from being held in de-escalation units for more than six hours. 

Seven people have died on Rikers Island of drug overdoses since 2021. On Tuesday, the Board of Correction noted that some had died after overdosing on synthetic marijuana, fentanyl, heroin, PCP or some combination of those drugs in the past 18 months. 

The Times noted that even when visitation at the prison was paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, illicit drugs were seized at a higher rate than the year before, suggesting that Correction Department staffers were involved in their smuggling. 

“The loneliest place one can die is prison,” Correction Board chairman Julio Medina told meeting attendees Tuesday. “I hope that we don’t just take these deaths as, ‘This is the norm if you go to Rikers Island.’ We should all be horrified.”

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