Michael Tyson was one of 100 inmates inside New York's Rikers Island jail to sue the state Friday, asking to be released because he had a medical condition that made him particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus.
Two days later, the 53-year-old, who was in jail for a parole violation that wasn't itself a crime, died after testing positive, his attorneys said.
He is the first incarcerated person to die after testing positive at Rikers Island, where officials are seeing an increasing number of inmates and corrections officers becoming ill with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
"We are both heartbroken and outraged to learn that our client, Michael Tyson, who was held on Rikers Island for a technical parole violation, has passed away from COVID-19," Tina Luongo with the Legal Aid Society said in a statement. "This tragedy would have been entirely avoidable if only Governor Cuomo had directed [the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision] to act decisively from the outset of this epidemic to release incarcerated New Yorkers who, like Mr. Tyson, were especially vulnerable to the virus."
Advocates have been pushing local and state officials to release inmates most vulnerable to the virus, including elderly people and those with underlying health conditions.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is one of a handful of governors who have pushed to release some inmates from state prisons and local jails, but prisoner advocates have argued he should adopt stronger measures to release more inmates faster.
"Albany's inaction has already cost lives; and as the virus reaches its apex, many more will succumb unless the Governor and DOCCS act immediately to address the humanitarian crisis in our jails and prisons," Luongo said in the statement.
According to records, Tyson had originally served time for sale of a controlled substance and had been released. He was again taken into custody on Feb. 28 over a parole violation.
It was unclear exactly why Tyson was arrested, but his attorneys said it was a technical parole violation. Technical violations are not crimes themselves, but rather violations of an inmate's terms of release, such as missing curfew, not reporting to their parole officer, or failing to report a new address.
Officials with the Legal Aid Society said they did not yet receive information about his violation at the time Tyson died.
According to the suit filed Friday, Tyson was considered to be "in the highest risk group due to age and underlying health issues."
In a statement, state prison officials confirmed a detainee who had tested positive for the coronavirus was moved to Bellevue Hospital on March 26 and died Sunday.
The department would not confirm the inmate's name.
As of Monday morning, 333 employees with New York's Department of Corrections have tested positive for coronavirus, according to the agency. Quinsey Simpson, who worked at Rikers, was the first corrections officer to die after contracting the virus.
While in custody, 286 inmates in New York Department of Corrections facilities have also tested positive for COVID-19.