After Browder started losing his mind in solitary confinement, he began to have suicidal thoughts, and attempted to kill himself four times while at Rikers. It seems like he tried to kill himself after failed court hearings, when the courts would tell him they’re not ready to take him to trial. Before his March 2012 suicide attempt, in which the guards beat him up, the 17-year-old said that he thought about killing himself for two weeks. However, the guards at Rikers Island never reported his suicide attempt, and his mother Venida had no idea he tried to kill himself that year.
Former Rikers social worker Mary Buser said that Rikers is notorious for reporting a lower number of suicide attempts than there are in reality. She says that these low numbers “paint a different picture” of Rikers. Dr. Daniel Selling, a former executive director of mental health for the New York City jail system, said that instead of writing down that an inmate attempted suicide, guards would write that their attempts were merely a "goal-directed action," or "malingering," to leave solitary confinement.
Jason Davis and Michael Canes, former Rikers solitary confinement survivors, explained that suicide is more of an everyday situation at Rikers, and helping those in need doesn’t seem like an urgent issue for the guards. Davis said that cutting himself was a "different kind of high," while Canes said that he attempted suicide by hanging several times, to the point where he didn’t care if his attempts worked or failed.
In this episode, we learn about Raul, the young man who accused Kalief Browder of stealing his backpack. Raul’s brother Manuel said that his brother left his job as a restaurant cook one night around 2:30 a.m., and woke him up to tell him that two black guys stole his backpack. A phone interview with Raul (who now resides in Mexico) revealed that after the initial incident, he became scared of black people and felt like they were following him. No police report was filed after the initial incident, and the city could not confirm the date of the 911 call.
A week after he was approached, Raul saw Browder and a friend walking down the street. He told Manuel, who told a nearby cop that Browder and his friend robbed his brother the week before. Browder and his friend had no weapons on them, but since Kalief fit the description of the man who robbed Raul, he was arrested without any other evidence. Raul gave different dates of the initial robbery, and there was no security footage of him being robbed.
No detectives were initially sent in to delve into the case and question Kalief. However, an interview was later conducted by a detective named Yvette Caraballo, who was notorious for being highly forceful. She was also a detective in a similar case to Kalief’s in 2012, which also saw a similar result. A 54-year-old man named Michael Johnson was accused of stealing a nine-year-old boy’s bicycle in the Bronx. He was held at Rikers Island, but it turns out that, per security footage, Johnson did not steal the bike. Caraballo is no longer employed by the NYPD.
The district attorney offered to drop Kalief’s felony charges to two misdemeanors. If Kalief accepted the guilty plea, he would be released from Rikers in four months.
“It sounded good, it was right before summertime, but I didn't do it,” he explained in archival footage of his decision not to take the guilty plea. “I’m not taking this deal…Half of you wanted to get out of there, and half of you didn't want to leave off the strength of a principle…[resilience] was anger towards the way the system was running. I didn't think it was fair.”
Although many other Rikers inmates told Kalief he was “dumb” and "stupid' not to take the guilty plea, he maintained his innocence and stood his ground. He did what he felt was right in his heart.
Court Became a Hassle
According to Browder’s lawyer, Paul Prestia, Kalief’s case was adjourned for the remainder of 2012 although it wasn’t a “complex racketeering case” because there was only one witness. Kalief rejected 13 plea deals from June 2011 to February 2013, and soon after, Judge Patricia DiMango got involved.
DiMango was the eighth judge to see Kalief’s case, and she called herself the “Mariano Rivera of the court system” due to her ability to close cases. She did anywhere from 30 to 70 felony cases a day. DiMango would verbally rip the defendants down until they took a plea, which is why she was brought in to oversee Kalief’s case. Kalief, however, continued to refuse the guilty plea.
The case was adjourned until April 19, 2013, so that the sole witness could come to court. The court said they would be willing to fly Raul from Mexico so that he could take the stand. However, it never happened, and in a span of “five minutes,” DiMango dismissed the trial on May 29 because she realized there wasn’t really a case. Kalief was released from Rikers around 2:30 a.m.
“I felt relieved,” he recalled with a smile and a laugh. However, the damage had already been done to Kalief’s mental health and spirit.