A Rikers Island corrections officer died after jumping off the Verrazano Bridge on Friday, raising renewed concerns about the increasing stress on staff and their safety crisis at the New York prison. Edward Roman, 38, parked his car near the Staten Island side of the 700-foot-tall bridge and jumped around 6:30 am on Friday.
Witnesses saw Roman jumping and called 911. NYPD divers immediately reached the scene and removed him from the water. However, there have been contradictory reports about the time of his death, as some reports claim that he died on the scene, while some say he was alive when pulled out of the water but later died in the hospital.
Death by Choice
According to a Staten Island Advance report, Roman survived the initial fall and was alive when first responders retrieved him from the water, but subsequently died after being transferred to Staten Island University Hospital.
Roman's death is now being linked to the increasing pressure on corrections officers in the notorious New York prison. The Correction Officers' Benevolent Association's president, Benny Boscio, bemoaned the harsh working conditions at Rikers Island and other city jails.
"Edward Roman served this city and this department honorably as correction officer for 10 years. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family and loved ones. We had been praying for his recovery, and now this tragic loss will be felt across the agency," Louis Molina, DOC Commissioner, said after Roman's death.
Two lanes on the Brooklyn-bound portion of the bridge were shut down for more than an hour, and one Staten-Island-bound lane was also restricted for a period, according to reports. At 8:08 a.m., all lanes were reopened.
Roman, a Long Island resident, has worked for the Department of Corrections (DOC) for over a decade, and was stationed at the renowned New York prison's North Infirmary Command.
Rikers has been in upheaval for years, with a large number of correction officers calling in sick. Because of the staffing shortage, there are many open positions and extra work for correction officers who do show up. Meanwhile, inmates lack access to essential services and medical care.
"Correction Officer Roman was well liked and respected by his fellow officers. He had his whole life and career ahead of him," Boscio said.
"This tragedy is also a solemn reminder of the enormous stress correction officers face on a daily basis. The worsening conditions in our jails doesn't just affect the inmates. Our officers go to work every day not knowing if they will return home the same way they left. They go to work every day not knowing if they will miss time with their loved ones because they are forced to work a double or triple shift," he added.
The working conditions worsened further during the Covid-19 outbreak. As a result, the prison, which holds over 5,000 inmates, has been beset by rising violence, detainee deaths, and widespread staff absences.
Mayor Eric Adams formed a task team to address those issues on Thursday, the day before Roman died.
"Rikers Island has been mired in dysfunction and plagued by parallel crises for decades. We cannot - and will not - allow that to continue," Adams said in a statement.
The announcement comes after another inmate committed suicide in the prison last Saturday, the fourth so far this year, raising the possibility of federal intervention if conditions do not improve soon.