Mayor Eric Adams is facing the increasingly real possibility that he will be stripped of control of Rikers Island. So on Tuesday, he went on the offensive.
"You are not going to find a person that's more committed to turn around the Department of Correction that I have shown as the mayor," Adams said.
As part of a long-running federal lawsuit, the city entered into a consent decree in 2015, promising to carry out reforms. But a report last week from a court-appointed monitor found the Adams administration was failing to make sufficient progress, and called for the judge in the case to find the city in contempt.
On Monday, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Damian Williams, who is also a party to the lawsuit, went a step further. He recommended a court-appointed receiver take control of the jails.
"I respect the U.S. attorney in the Southern District," Adams said Tuesday. "I think he's a great leader there. But something is just not adding up that I went from, 'Eric is turning the corner,' to now, 'We need to place it in receivership.'"
Activists have pointed to a rash of detainee deaths while in custody or shortly after being released. The death of William Johnstone on Saturday was the sixth this year and 25th since Adams took office.
Protestors rallied on Tuesday demanding the Department of Correction reduce the population at city jails.
"Every single day, someone in our community’s lives is in danger in DOC custody," said Victoria Phillips of the New York City Jails Action Coalition.
But Commissioner Louis Molina told NY1 his department is making progress.
"Under Mayor Adams, we have been an action-oriented administration. We dived into these issues out of the gate, and we are now yielding a lot of benefits from that work," Molina said following a meeting of the Board of Correction.
Molina has reversed absenteeism among officers, and says violence and use of force incidents are down. But the monitor's report last week called into question the accuracy of the department's reporting, among other failures.
That prompted the judge in the case, Laura Swain, to write in a court filing Tuesday that "these concerns raise questions as to whether Defendants are capable of safe and proper management of the jails."
"Indeed, these issues are serious, urgent, and call for specific responses and prompt, effective action by Defendants," Swain said.
To that end, she ordered that the city provide written responses in advance of an Aug. 10 court date, where next steps will be discussed.
"We are trending in the direction of decreases," Molina said. "And that's what we're here to focus on."