Doctor who sexually abused patients kills himself in jail

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NEW YORK (AP) — A once-prominent neurologist convicted last month of sexually abusing patients killed himself Monday at a New York City jail, two people familiar with the matter said.

Dr. Ricardo Cruciani, 68, was found unresponsive in a shower area at the Eric M. Taylor Center, a jail at the notorious Rikers Island complex, the people said. They were not authorized to speak publicly and did so on condition of anonymity.

Cruciani’s lawyer, Frederick Sosinsky, confirmed in a statement that his client had died, but not the manner of death.

“Ricardo’s attorneys and family are shocked and saddened beyond belief to have learned of his violent death while in city custody this morning,” he said.

Sosinsky called for “an immediate and objective investigation” into the circumstances of Cruciani’s death, including whether jail officials complied with a court order, at the time of his conviction, to place him in protective custody and under suicide watch.

“Neither of these conditions were, to our knowledge, ever complied with,” Sosinsky said. “Had they been, we would not be having this terrible discussion.“

Cruciani died while awaiting sentencing next month in a New York state case in which he was convicted of 12 counts, including predatory sexual assault, rape and sex abuse, and acquitted on two other counts. He faced up to life in prison.

He was also scheduled to go on trial next January on federal charges accusing him of abusing multiple patients over 15 years at his offices in New York City, Philadelphia and Hopewell, New Jersey.

Prosecutors said Cruciani groomed vulnerable patients by overprescribing pain killers, sometimes to treat serious injuries from car wrecks and other accidents.

Six women testified the sexual abuse often occurred behind closed doors during appointments in 2013 at a Manhattan medical center, where the doctor would expose himself and demand sex.

“I take comfort knowing he now faces another judge,” said Terrie Phoenix, who testified against Cruciani at trial.

Cruciani’s act “was in no way a sign of remorse or guilt,” said Hillary Tullin, who also testified and who helped fuel the case by calling a sexual abuse hotline in 2017. “He simply could not stand facing the rest of his life behind bars.”

Tullin called it a “sad day for all of his victims who will never get to have finality and never have the chance to address the defendant to tell him directly how his crimes greatly impacted their lives.”

Jeffrey Fritz, who represents 30 women who say they were victimized by Cruciani, including Phoenix and Tullin, said many of his clients “feel cheated of criminal justice.”

The AP does not typically identify people who say they are survivors of sexual assault unless they grant permission, which Phoenix and Tullin have done.

Cruciani denied abusing women. In court, his lawyer questioned the credibility of his accusers.

The fire department said it responded to a call of an inmate unconscious at the jail around 5:50 a.m. Paramedics attempted to resuscitate the inmate but were unable, and he was pronounced dead at the scene, the fire department said.

The city’s Department of Correction, which runs Rikers Island, confirmed that an inmate at the Eric M. Taylor Center died Monday, but did not release his name, citing pending family notification. The cause of death is under investigation, the Department of Correction said.

Jails commissioner Louis Molina said in a statement that he was “deeply saddened” to learn of the inmate’s death, and promised “a preliminary internal review to determine the circumstances surrounding his death.“

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to his loved ones,” Molina said.

Cruciani is at least the 11th person to die in a city jail this year. Last year, 16 people died in city jails — the most since 2013.

The Daily News was first to report Cruciani’s death.

Messages seeking comment were left with lawyers for women who say they were abused by him. A message was also left with the Manhattan district attorney’s office, which prosecuted the case that ended in his July 29 conviction.

Cruciani was out on bail during the trial but was sent to Rikers Island after the verdict.

The complex, troubled by years of neglect, has spiraled into turmoil since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with a spike in inmate deaths, violence, self-harm and staff absences. The city has said it will close Rikers Island by 2027, replacing it with four smaller jails located elsewhere.

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Rubinkam reported from northeastern Pennsylvania. __

On Twitter, follow Michael Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak and Michael Rubinkam at twitter.com/michaelrubinkam

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