Joshua Valles had been on Rikers Island since early April, facing a $10,000 bail after a burglary and petty larceny charge.
This week, he became the third Rikers detainee to die this year after spending time in the jail facility. He was 31 years old.
He had been in a mental health unit and his cause of death is now the center of controversy.
"We know the Department of Correction just wanted to focus on the cardiac arrest that occurred while in the ambulance and seemed to suggest that this was some sort of cardiac issue," Stan Germán, the executive director of New York County Defender Services, which represented Valles, said. "While at the hospital, they did a CT scan, and what the CT scan showed is he suffered severe brain injury and he was suffering from swelling of the brain."
His attorneys are demanding answers.
"A preliminary autopsy of Joshua revealed he had a skull fracture," Germán said. “So that's what we know up to this point. Now the million dollar question is what happened to Joshua while he was on Rikers Island?"
Valles' hospital stay was first reported by the federal monitor in a special report issued last week, questioning the Department of Correction's handling of serious incidents on the island and whether officials were being forthcoming with information about those incidents.
That report said Valles had reported headaches and was sent to the hospital. Correction officials said later he appeared to have a heart attack. He was released from custody last week during his hospital stay, which can happen when someone is critically ill.
In a letter last week, the city's Department of Correction Commissioner Louis Molina said there was no indication someone from the department submitted a false report or committed any wrongdoing related to this incident.
But on Wednesday, that story got more complicated.
A new letter from the Rikers federal monitor revealed a correction official now said an autopsy found Valles died as a result of a fractured skull in stark contrast to what the department initially reported.
It goes on to say the department does not know how Valles obtained the fatal injury, and that he was involved in a fight, but it was over a month ago.
The monitor goes on to say an investigation of the incident is necessary and the commissioner's conclusions were premature, at best.
"This notion that this was just a cardiac arrest in the ambulance and there's nothing else to investigate just doesn't pass the smell test," Germán said. "I think the monitor made that very clear and as of this point what we're asking for is an independent investigation."
As a result of these revelations, the federal judge overseeing the monitor has called a special conference for June 13. She has ordered the commissioner to attend.
In addition, the monitor's letter on Wednesday reported the Department of Investigation has asked for information related to these incidents. It is unclear if they have opened their own inquiry. A spokesperson for that agency would not comment.
The Department of Correction told NY1 it has opened up its own investigation as well.