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Queens man hangs self at Rikers

It was the second jailhouse suicide in the city this year and the fifth in the past 12 months, the official said.In the latest incident, Charon Watkins, 25, of 106th Avenue and 145th Street was found dead in his cell March 18 after hanging himself by tying a torn bedsheet to a sink faucet in his cell. He was sent to Rikers after being indicted for an alleged robbery Jan. 8, then was moved from the jail's general population to a unit known as "putative segregation" Feb. 23 when guards found him with a sharpened piece of metal, said Thomas Antenen, the deputy commissioner for public affairs at Correction. At a department hearing, the 25-year-old was found guilty of possession of a weapon and sentenced to 90 days in the new unit.Once there, Watkins spent 23 hours a day in isolation, Antenen said. Such units have come under criticism for the strain they put on inmates' mental health by prisoners rights advocates, who have noted that the majority of jailhouse suicides occur in isolation. But Antenen said preventative measures are taken with each inmate before putting them in, with Watkins having no history of mental health problems."There are precautions," Antenen said. "It's not an arbitrary process."In the past, state jail investigators have criticized the Correction Department and its private medical contractor, Prison Health Services, for their handling of mentally ill patients, some of whom committed suicide. While reforms have reportedly been put in place, the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which oversees city jailhouse medical issues, did not return a call seeking comment. It could not be determined why Watkins killed himself. In addition to the robbery charge, he had three cases pending in State Supreme Court in Kew Gardens, one for alleged drug possession, one for reputed drug possession and weapon possession, and one for tampering with evidence stemming from the fatal shooting of one of his brothers, a spokeswoman for the Queens district attorney said. In the last case, police initially said Watkins' brother, Rashawn Watkins, shot and killed a third brother, area deejay and rap producer Shane Watkins, during an argument. A criminal complaint, however, revealed instead that Charon Watkins allegedly shot Shane Watkins, then hid the gun in a nearby dump truck. The remaining members of the Watkins family could not be reached for comment. The investigation into Charon Watkins' death was ongoing as of Tuesday, Antenen said.Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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