NEW JERSEY — A 63-year-old detainee at a Rikers Island jail is the second inmate to die of coronavirus, officials said Tuesday.
Walter Ance was held at Rikers pretrial for about 13 months, according to the Legal Aid Society. He was considered vulnerable to coronavirus because of his age and because he had diabetes and prostate issues.
“Mr. Ance suffered from a litany of health issues, but despite these conditions and warnings from the City, the Queens County District Attorney’s Office refused to consent to his release,” Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society, said. “Our continuing efforts were entirely ignored, and as a result, Mr. Ance died handcuffed to a bed.”
Ance was held on charges of murder, criminal contempt and witness tampering. He allegedly stabbed his wife in the chest, according to the criminal complaint.
He died on Saturday, Department of Correction Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Peter Thorne said.
“The safety and well-being of those in our custody remains our number one priority,” Thorne said. “We work in close collaboration with Correctional Health Services (CHS), to ensure that all individuals in custody receive quality care. We continue to follow guidance from national, state, and local public health authorities, and are taking extensive steps every hour of every day to limit the spread of COVID-19 in our facilities.”
Ance was one of over 20 inmates on a mass writ seeking release that was filed by the Legal Aid Society three days before he died, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said.
“The facts of a case, the victim’s input and the defendant’s health history, when provided, are all considered,” Katz said. “We are committed to our continued collaboration with all stakeholders to protect vulnerable New Yorkers while keeping our communities safe.”
Ance is the second Rikers inmate to die of coronavirus. Detainee Michael Tyson, 53, suffered a coronavirus-related death on April 5.
“These avoidable deaths will continue to mount so long as our DAs ignore the reality that jails are breeding grounds for this virus, infecting our clients and Correction staff alike at an unrivaled rate,” Luongo said. “Regardless of the crimes our clients are alleged to have committed, no New Yorker who is seriously ill should face a death sentence at Rikers Island before a jury has even had a chance to judge their guilt or innocence.”