Doctor convicted of sexually abusing patients becomes 12th person to die in New York jails this year

Ricardo Cruciani, a doctor found guilty in July of sexually abusing multiple patients he was treating for severe pain conditions, was found dead by apparent suicide in a New York jail on Monday, the 12th such death in a city jail or shorly after release from one this year.

The disgraced neurologist, who was convicted and was facing up to 25 years to life, entered the shower area of his cell block on Rikers Island around 4.23am, according to prison medical documents seen by TheNew York Times, an area supposedly secured by inspections every half hour.

The Times reports that Cruciani was part of the general population, while The New York Post, citing unnamed jailhouse sources, reports the doctor was on suicide watch but was left alone by the officer watching over him.

An hour later, prison officials found the 68-year-old Cruciani unresponsive with a sheet around his neck. Medical officials tried to treat him but he died on scene, according to the documents.

The Independent has asked Cruciani’s lawyers for comment.

Prison officials will investigate the circumstances of the death, as will the state Attorney General’s office.

The Independent has reached out to Rikers Island officials for comment.

New York prison commissioner Louis Molina said in a statement on Monday he was “deeply saddened to learn of the passing of this person in custody.”

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to his loved ones,” he said.

Cruciani was arrested in 2017, after 17 patients accused him of misconduct across a range of hospitals including New York’s Beth Israel Medical Center, as well as facilities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Prosecutors described the man as “evil in a white coat,” using his position as a neurologist to find patients with rare diseases and pain problems, hook them on addictive medications, and use their dependence on him to extract sexual favours.

“You will see that each had a history, a demeanor, a broken past that made them his perfect victim,” Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Shannon Lucey said in court during Cruciani’s trial. “He built trust in each of them. He pathologically got to know their weaknesses, their vulnerabilities.”

On 29 July, the doctor was found guilty on 12 counts including third-degree rape, sexual abuse, attempted rape, predatory sexual assault, and criminal sexual acts, and sent to Rikers to await sentencing in September.

Rikers Island, a sprawling, eight-prison complex on an island in New York City, has long been the target of criticisms over its safety record, and criminal justice advocates were horrified to find another death at the facility. Eleven of the 12 deaths in prison custody this year have been at Rikers.

Tamara Carter is a part of a group called Freedom Agenda. Her son Brandon Rodriguez died by suicide Rikers Island last year, one of the 16 deaths in New York jails in 2021.

“To find out not even after a week of the first anniversary of my son’s death that someone else has died in a shower cell is heartbreaking. Have they learned nothing?” she told amNY. “They’re showing us they don’t care about the 27 lives lost before today. This saddens me to the core. How can we start to heal when the deaths continue?”

The facility has long been the target of reformers. Many of those inside the prison are Black and Latino people who can’t afford pre-trial bail, thus subject to violence and neglect before they’re even convicted of a crime.

George Pagan, among the 12 who died in New York prisons this year, died of medical issues while waiting in Rikers because he couldn’t afford a $1,006 bail, while Emmanuel Sullivan was found unresponsive on his bed a week before his court date, after awaiting trial for four months.

City council officials, visiting the facility during this summer’s intense heat, compared conditions inside to a “hell hole.”

According to data obtained by NY1, hundreds of people died of drug overdoses inside the prison over the last year.

Activists have long called for the prison to be shut down even sooner than its planned closure date in 2026.

Rikers officials got the green light for a federally approved reform plan earlier this year.