Staten Island mom demands answers about son’s Rikers Island death

A Staten Island man battling an addiction to painkillers spent eight months in Florida clinics trying to get clean.

While at a rehab facility, Eugene (Sonny) Castelle, 27, had a relapse and was arrested in Boynton Beach for heroin possession with intent to sell. The bust was a violation of the terms of a drug-related plea agreement in New York, prompting an NYPD detective to fly down and pick him up.

Castelle landed at Rikers Island on Nov. 2. Six days later, he was dead.

Now, his mother is demanding answers after a Rikers inmate claimed a correction officer denied Castelle medical help hours before he was found dead. She has filed a notice of claim, alerting the city of her intent to sue.

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“I really don’t know what happened behind those closed walls,” Lucille Tirado, 55, told the Daily News. “Something went wrong in there. Something definitely went wrong.”

Her son died on Nov. 8 at the Anna M. Kross Center.

An inmate told The News that Castelle had taken a dose of methadone, using another prisoner’s prescription before he died. The drug is prescribed to inmates at the jail who are recovering from opiate addiction. It’s typically administered in liquid form under close supervision, which jail insiders say raises questions about the inmate’s story.

About 2 a.m., Castelle was vomiting and struggling to stand, according to the inmate, who insisted his name not be published out of fear of retaliation in the jail.

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“You could tell he was sick,” the inmate said in the jailhouse interview. “He had (vomit) coming out of his mouth. He wasn’t the right color.”

Another inmate helped Castelle to “the bubble” watch post to ask for medical help. The correction officer inside was sleeping, and angrily dismissed them both, the inmate said.

“What the f--k are you doing? Take that inmate back to his bed,” the officer said, according to the inmate.

At 8:40 a.m., Castelle was found unresponsive, records show. A correction officer and medical staff tried CPR to no avail. After seven minutes, he was dead.

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Correction Department spokesman Peter Thorne could not comment on the details of the case, citing an ongoing investigation, as well as pending litigation.

Tirardo wears a pendant containing her late son's photo, as Marie Castelle, one of Eugene's sisters, comforts her mom.

“Any death in custody is a tragedy. Commissioner Joseph Ponte extends his heartfelt condolences to Mr. Castelle’s family,” Thorne said.

Tirado is outraged that she still has no idea what caused her son’s death. The city medical examiner’s office has not released the cause of death pending further study.

Castelle made an effort to get clean on March 3, 2015, when he pleaded guilty on Staten Island to criminal sale of a controlled substance. He agreed to enroll in a rehab program known as TASC (Treatment Accountability for Safer Communities).

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“Staten Island is very bad with drugs,” Tirado said. “They were all around him.”

Castelle, who had two sisters, got hooked on oxycodone through the barbershop where he worked, she said.

He feared he would overdose if he was anywhere near Staten Island.

“I figured the further away, he was better off,” Tirado said.

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So she sent him to rehab in Palm Beach County, Fla., last January.

He regained weight, returning to his normal 180 pounds. The color returned to his face.

“He was clean. He just wanted to get back to sober living. He was doing so well,” Tirado said.

But in late September, Castelle had an apparent relapse and was busted with a stash of heroin, records show.

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He spent a month in custody — presumably where he again sobered up — before the NYPD detective flew down to Florida to bring him back to New York.

On Nov. 2, Castelle appeared before a Staten Island judge on the sale of a controlled substance charge, as well as a petty larceny charge.

The last time Tirado saw her son he was in handcuffs.

“When he looked at me his face was as white as a ghost. I’ll never forget that look,” she said.

“He was scared, you heard the cracking in his voice,” she added, recalling his phone calls from Rikers.

Correction officers came to Tirado’s home and told her the awful news the day Castelle died.

The facility where Castelle died has been the site of at least two other inmate deaths in the last three years. Both were mistakenly suspected of suffering from drug withdrawal and denied care, according to lawsuits.

“You have these untrained correction officers that are the gatekeepers for people seeking medical care,” Tirado’s attorney Jeffrey Guzman said.

“They’re in essence triaging people in need of medical care.”

With Reuven Blau

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