A doctor found guilty last month of sexually assaulting patients was found dead at the Rikers Island jail complex Monday even though his lawyer had called for him to be put on suicide watch just minutes after he was convicted.
The doctor, Ricardo Cruciani, a 68-year-old neurologist, was found early Monday morning sitting in a shower area of the jail with a sheet around his neck, according to documents obtained by The New York Times. Shortly afterward, medical staff arrived to attend to him. He died about an hour after he was discovered, the documents show.
Mr. Cruciani is the 12th person to have died this year either while being held in the city’s jails or shortly after being released. His death dele came about two weeks after a jury found him guilty on 12 counts of predatory sexual assault, sexual abuse, rape and other crimes, stemming from his treatment of six patients that he saw around 2012.
In a statement, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction, Louis A. Molina, said he was “deeply saddened to learn of the passing of this person in custody.”
“We will conduct a preliminary internal review to determine the circumstances surrounding his death,” he said in the statement, which did not identify Mr. Cruciani. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to his loved ones by him.”
The Crisis at Rikers Island
Amid the pandemic and a staffing emergency, New York City’s main jail complex has been embroiled in a continuing crisis.
The Department of Correction did not immediately respond to questions on the circumstances surrounding the death or whether Mr. Cruciani had been placed on suicide watch, as his lawyer and the judge presiding over his trial had requested.
“Ricardo’s attorneys and family are shocked and saddened beyond belief to have learned of his violent death while in city custody this morning,” Mr. Cruciani’s lawyer, Frederick Sosinsky, said in a statement.
Mr. Sosinsky said that after his request from him in the courtroom, the judge had directed the Department of Correction to place Mr. Cruciani in protective custody and under suicide watch, during which he would have been supervised around the clock, even while using the bathroom.
“Neither of these conditions were, to our knowledge, ever complied with,” Mr. Sosinky said. He called for an investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Cruciani’s death, including why the Department of Correction failed to follow the court’s orders.
Mr. Cruciani was being held in a general population dormitory of the Eric M. Taylor Center that was understaffed, according to an official familiar with events who was granted anonymity to speak on the matter without authorization.
The second official said that Mr. Cruciani had entered the shower area at 4:23 am and was found unresponsive at 5:35 am by the officer overseeing the housing area. Officers are expected to tour the area every 30 minutes, but it is unclear whether that happened, the official said.
Mr. Cruciani’s death raises questions about why he was not under heightened supervise and draws new attention to problems at the Eric M. Taylor Center, which has become increasingly chaotic since it became a facility for processing new details last September, according to jail staff and advocates for prisoners.
Mr. Cruciani was scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 14, and could have been facing life in prison. He also faced federal charges in Manhattan and state charges for similar behavior in New Jersey.
During his trial in New York State Supreme Court, prosecutors said that Mr. Cruciani, who once had a reputation as a congenial and brilliant physician with a particular gift for treating chronic pain, had engaged in a pattern of untoward behavior with several women he treated.
At first, Mr. Cruciani would embrace his patients too tightly, or run his fingers through their hair, the prosecutors said. Eventually, his behavior would escalate and he would grope the women without permission, and force them to have intercourse or perform other sex acts. In lawsuits, some women accused him of having overprescribed medication that left them dependent on him.
Hillary Tullin, the former patient of Mr. Cruciani who said that he had assaulted her multiple times, said in an interview Monday that while she felt sorry for her children, she also felt “for all the victims who will never get a chance to confront him.”
“It finally dawned on him there was no way out,” she said. “The jurors believed what we said. It was real. He was going to jail for life.”
One of his other former patients, Terrie Phoenix, said: “I take comfort knowing he now faces another judge.”
Mr. Cruciani was first arrested in Pennsylvania in 2017, but after pleading guilty in a deal with Philadelphia prosecutors that required him to surrender his medical license, he was able to avoid jail time. The following year, he was criminally charged in Manhattan. His trial was delayed because of the pandemic, but began in late June of this year. After his conviction in July, he was sent to Rikers Island to await sentencing.
The jail complex, which is set to close by 2027, has been troubled for decades, but the coronavirus pandemic has worsened problems, as hundreds of correction officers have failed to show up for work. The lack of staffing has contributed to a cascade of issues, including the basic processing of new arrivals.
In the late summer of 2021, incarcerated people were held for weeks in intake cells, including in shower areas. After visiting the jail complex, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio said that one of his top priorities was speeding up the intake process. But that process appears to have slowed again — and a third of those who have died at city jails this year were being held at the Eric M. Taylor Center.
William K. Rashbaum, Roni Caryn Rabin and Troy Closson contributed reporting.