Rikers Island shoplifting suspect dies of suspected overdose, 19th death in NYC jails this year

A Manhattan man sent to Rikers Island for shoplifting perfume has died of a suspected overdose, the 19th death in New York City jails this year, sources said Monday.

Edgardo Mejias, 39, was found unresponsive in the Anna M. Kross Center and declared dead about 5 p.m. Sunday, Correction Department officials said.

Correction Department sources said he was discovered by other detainees, who alerted staff. He died of a likely overdose, though the Correction Department did not cite a cause of death, sources said. If confirmed, it would be the sixth overdose death in the jails in 2022.

Several attempts were made to revive Mejias with Narcan but he did not respond, suggesting he was already too far gone by the time staff reached his side, the sources said.

Mejias is the sixth detainee to die this year at Rikers’ Anna M. Kross Center out of the 19 deaths of people in Correction Department custody.

“Edgardo Mejia was delivered a death sentence without a trial,” said Darren Mack, co-director of the Freedom Agenda, an advocacy group for people impacted by incarceration.

“What will it take for judges, prosecutors and police to stop churning people through this death trap, and for the mayor to stop encouraging them?”

The 19 deaths this year are the most since 2013, when there were 23 deaths, but there was a much larger jail population back then — just under 12,000 compared with just under 6,000 this year.

Correction Department Commissioner Louis Molina said in a statement Mejias’ death “fills our hearts with sadness.”

Mejias was arrested Sept. 30 in Manhattan with his girlfriend for repeatedly stealing perfume from the Ulta Beauty Store and Hair Salon on W. 34th St. near Sixth Ave. on Sept. 8.

He reached Rikers Island on Oct. 2, Correction Department officials said.

Dean Vigliano, Mejias’ court-appointed lawyer, says in the two months he was on Rikers Island, Mejias complained bitterly he wasn’t getting medical care for his asthma.

“He just didn’t feel he was getting proper care,” Vigliano said. “It was very frustrating for him because he was having trouble breathing. He was in a lot of distress.”

Vigliano wrote an email to the Correction Department Nov. 17 asking to improve the quality of his client’s care in custody.

“His allergies are really bothering him and he is having trouble breathing and sleeping. He seemed quite desperate,” Vigliano wrote in the email, which he shared with the Daily News. “I request that steps be taken to have him examined and evaluated and proper medication dispensed to him.”

One day later, Michelle Ford, a Correction Department lawyer, referred Vigliano to Correctional Health Services, which handles medical care in the jails.

“Please be advised that the New York City Department of Correction does not administer medical care,” she wrote.

In December, the Legal Aid Society sued the Correction Department over thousands of missed medical appointments. Bronx Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Taylor fined the city $200,000 for failing to fix the problem. The city is appealing that decision.

Mejias has 20 prior arrests, including for robbery, burglary, forgery and grand larceny, police said. His most recent address, cops said, was a shelter/psychiatric facility on Wards Island.

Court records indicate he was arrested July 31 for stealing from Ulta six times between April and July. On Sept. 6, he failed to appear in court and a warrant was issued. He failed to appear again Sept. 9.

After his Sept. 30 arrest, he was arraigned for six new alleged thefts from Ulta and a robbery from a CVS where he allegedly showed a knife.

His bail was set at $10,000 cash.

A spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office said Mejias had been under consideration for a court where he could receive drug or mental health treatment. He was slated to return to court Thursday.

The death will be investigated by the state attorney general’s office and the city Department of Investigation.