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A physician banned from Rikers Island for his outspoken social media posts on jail issues — costing him his contract job with the city’s Correctional Health Services agency — sued Mayor Adams and Correction Commissioner Louis Molina on Friday.
Dr. James Uhrig, 69, claims Correction Commissioner Louis Molina revoked his security clearances in early November over posts on drug contraband in the jails and his support of a federal takeover of New York City’s jails.
The move effectively ended his employment as a Correctional Health Services doctor, a job in which he treated thousands of detainees over five years, Uhrig claims. Uhrig also says Molina’s decision violated his free speech rights.
When Uhrig, a doctor for 44 years, arrived for work on Nov. 6, he found posters with his picture on it with a statement saying, “Dr. Jamie Uhrig should not be permitted into any DOC facilities.” He was then escorted off the island.
“Dr. Uhrig is an acclaimed physician; he came to work and saw his picture posted at the entrance, as if he were a security risk,” said his lawyer Sarena Townsend. “They were offended because of what he was writing, and as we all know when you publicly disagree with Molina, you are punished.”
After Molina claimed fentanyl-soaked letters were causing fatal overdoses and moved to block personal mail for detainees, Uhrig posted Nov. 2: “The entire Fentanyl on paper issue is a distraction from the issue of drug smuggling by correction officers.”
On March 14, the Board of Correction refused to vote on Molina’s proposal, effectively killing it.
Uhrig often also included the hashtag #ReceivershipNow in his posts, a reference to supporters of a movement to bringing in an outside manager to fix the jail system. He often tagged Molina himself in his posts.
After the Daily News broke the story of Uhrig’s firing on March 20, Mayor Adams confirmed the move was Molina’s decision and defended his correction commissioner.
“He’s a doctor. He should know the level of professional standards that he should carry out,” Adams told reporters on March 22.
Adams claimed Uhrig somehow contradicted advice from the federal Centers for Disease Control about the prevalence of fentanyl coming through the mail.
“I think that it’s just inappropriate to have someone that is going to openly contradict the CDC to be on Rikers Island and not just have the utmost faith in Molina,” Adams said.
But, the lawsuit says, the CDC never offered an opinion about the prevalence of the practice.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan alleges Uhrig had a right to “comment on matters of public interest during non-working hours.”
It does not seek a specific dollar amount but demands back pay, damages and an admission from the city that Uhrig was the subject of unlawful retaliation.
City Law Department spokesman Nicholas Paolucci said the city will review Uhrig’s complaint when it is officially served.