NEW YORK (PIX11) — A man died after being granted compassionate release from Rikers Island, Department of Correction officials said Tuesday, denying a report of an apparent attempt to keep the death off the department’s books.
Robert Pondexter, 59, suffered an unspecified medical emergency in a housing area of the jail complex’s George R. Vierno Center on Sept. 18 and was transported to a city hospital, according to the DOC. On Sept. 22, the courts granted Pondexter a compassionate release.
In an email dated Sept. 22, obtained by the New York Times, DOC Commissioner Louis Molina wrote to subordinates that efforts should be made to keep Pondexter “off the Department’s count.”
Pondexter died the next day, officials said. Questions about the cause of his death were directed by the DOC to the Office of Chief Medical Examiner. An OCME spokesperson said Wednesday that a determination had not yet been made as to how Pondexter died and that the office’s investigation was ongoing.
Because Pondexter had technically been released prior to his passing, the DOC did not tally his death as having occurred in its custody, did not issue a news release, and did not report it to the city’s Board of Correction oversight group, according to the Times.
In a statement, a DOC spokesperson strongly denied that Pondexter’s release was motivated by a desire to improve department statistics, calling the suggestion “incorrect and offensive.”
“Let’s be clear – the Department strongly supports compassionate release only because it allows for family members to spend time with the individual when they need the most care and support, and never to influence departmental statistics,” the spokesperson said in part. “The language used by Commissioner Molina in that email is technical in nature – removing someone off the departments [sic] ‘count’ allows for them to spend time with their family with maximum privacy, unaccompanied by DOC staff. Suggesting it was an effort to improve DOC statistics is both incorrect and offensive.”
The spokesperson went on to stress that the authority to grant compassionate release lies not with DOC, but with the courts.
During an unrelated press briefing on Tuesday, Mayor Eric Adams defended Molina and denied an attempt to juke the stats.
“Commissioner Molina is probably the most compassionate commissioner we’ve ever had in [the] Department of Corrections,” he said in part. “The technical term he used, those at the Department of Correction understand. If we get it from under the Department of Correction, then we could treat [Pondexter’s] family in a humane way. That’s what he was saying.”