A Queens, N.Y., man spent approximately five months in New York City’s notoriously dangerous Rikers Island prison, unaware his bail was just $2, according to his lawyers.
Aitabdel Salem, 41, was sent to Rikers after he was arrested on Nov 21, 2014, in connection with an attack on a New York police officer. The officer had stopped him on suspicion of shoplifting at a clothing store, the New York Daily News reported.
Salem’s bail was originally set at $25,000 but when prosecutors failed to get an indictment he was ordered to be released a week later on Nov. 28, the Daily Newsreported.
However, he still had bails owing from two minor offences, including tampering with a cash machine and mischief charges that a judge set at $2. He sat in Rikers from Nov. 2014 to April 2015, while his bail was just $2 — the price of a slice of pizza or a cup coffee.
Salem’s current lawyers, Glenn Hardy and Theodore Goldbergh, blamed his previous attorney for not informing him.
“[Salem] was shocked and dismayed and frustrated that his case was unconscionably mishandled and there was no communication by his attorney telling him his bail was $2 which he could have made at any moment,” Hardy said at a recent court hearing, according to local news station WPIX.
Salem was released in April 2015, but was arrested again a few weeks later for failing to appear at an arraignment for the original assault charge, according to the Daily News.
His lawyers said the letter informing Salem of his court date was lost in the mail and had been stamped “return to sender” by the post office.
“You can’t do what you don’t know and if you’re a defendant in a criminal case you certainly have a right to rely upon the system [to know] what your next court date is,” Goldbergh said.
Salem remains in Rikers after missing his court date with bail now set at $30,000, according to court records.
In June 2015, 22-year-old Kalief Browder who was held in Rikers from 2010-2013, without a trial for allegedly stealing a backpack committed suicide.
And in 2014, Jerome Murdough, a mentally ill homeless veteran who died at Rikers, was “essentially baked to death” in a jail cell that overheated to more than 100 degrees F.