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Kalief Browder's Family: He Was "Unable To Overcome His Own Pain And Torment" From Rikers

Browder described his teenage years at Rikers, which included two years of solitary confinement, as torture. He was released in June 2013 after a robbery charge was dropped.

Last updated on June 8, 2015, at 1:28 p.m. ET

Posted on June 7, 2015, at 9:07 p.m. ET

A 22-year-old man who spent three tortuous years behind bars without being convicted of a crime killed himself on Saturday.

The New Yorker told the story of Kalief Browder last year, and this weekend, writer Jennifer Gonnerman sat with his family in their anger and grief.

"It's horrible," his attorney Paul Prestia told BuzzFeed News. "That's an understatement."

In a statement sent to BuzzFeed News through Prestia, Browder's family blamed Kalief's death on the unjust treatment he received while jailed at Rikers:

"The family of Kalief Browder is deeply saddened by his untimely death last Saturday at the age of twenty-two. He was an intelligent and humble young man who had his childhood cut short by New York City's criminal-justice system, when he was unjustly arrested at the age of sixteen and locked in jail for three years. After fighting so hard to get out of jail—and then fighting on the outside to restart his life — he ultimately was unable to overcome his own pain and torment which emanated from his experiences in solitary confinement. We ask the public to respect our privacy during this very difficult time, and we pray that Kalief's death will not be in vain. We ask that the mayor and every public official in New York City take every action possible to ensure that no other person in New York City will ever again be forced to live through all that Kalief endured."

Browder's death came after years of beatings, withheld meals, and other abuse at Rikers Island, where he had been held for a crime he said he didn't commit. He was arrested at age 16 after a man claimed Browder had robbed him; authorities dropped charges after three years and before the case went to trial.

Surveillance video later obtained by the New Yorker showed two instances of the abuse Browder faced while in custody from corrections workers and other inmates. In spite of the conditions he faced, Browder said on multiple occasions he refused to take a plea deal because he was innocent.

Browder's story prompted a closer look at problems at Rikers; it turned out he was one of many people caught in the backlog of the jail and the state court system.

"This happens every day, and I feel like it's got to stop," he told the HuffPost Live in 2013.

In response to telling his story, he received thousands of letters from people expressing their sympathy and support, Prestia said.

"He recognized that [support], and he appreciated that," Prestia said.

According to a New York Times report earlier this year, 400 people were being held at Rikers for more than two years without a conviction.

In a statement on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke about the impact that Browder's story had on civilians and the larger conversation about the treatment of Rikers inmates.

He added that he and his wife, Chirlane McCray, were "deeply saddened" by the news of his death.

"There is no reason he should have gone through this ordeal, and his tragic death is a reminder that we must continue to work each day to provide the mental health services so many New Yorkers need," de Blastio said. "On behalf of all New Yorkers, we send our condolences to the Browder family during this difficult time."

In interviews after his release, Browder said he was trying hard to catch up on his life — going to school and also working. Family members told the New Yorker he was also left with paranoia from his time at Rikers. While in jail, he had tried to kill himself, the New Yorker reported, and he again tried after coming home.

"Prior to going to jail, I never had any mental illnesses," Browder told HLN in 2013. "I never tried to hurt myself, I never tried to kill myself, I never had any thoughts like that. I had stressful times prior to going to jail, but not like during jail. That was the worst experience that I ever went through in my whole life."

Before his death, Browder filed a lawsuit against the city seeking $20 million in damages. All of his mental health troubles were directly related to his jail experience, Prestia said, adding the suit would continue.

"Certainly, it won't be the same without Kalief," he said. "But we have to make sure we get justice in this case. That's what he would have wanted."

Amid the struggles he faced, Prestia said Browder was always a good kid.

"Ultimately, he just had too much to overcome."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.