A Rikers Detainee Made a Daring Escape. The Getaway Car? A City Bus.

Some jailbreaks require elaborate planning. Others demand feats of strength or agility. Few have relied on the New York City bus system.

But that system unwittingly supplied the getaway vehicle when a Rikers Island detainee made a break for it outside Bellevue Hospital Center on Wednesday night, two people with knowledge of the incident said.

The detainee, James Mossetty, had been jailed since January on assault and drug charges, and he was taken earlier this month to Bellevue, where he was treated for psychiatric problems, among other things, one of the people said.

On Wednesday night, just before 10 p.m., two New York City Department of Correction officers were supposed to be putting Mr. Mossetty into a van for a return trip to Rikers when he somehow escaped from the hospital’s secure loading area, the city officials said.

He climbed a median, dashed across several lanes of traffic on the nearby Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive and boarded a city bus to make good his escape, said the people with knowledge of the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the security lapse.

As the authorities searched for him on Thursday, unanswered questions abounded. It was not clear, for instance, how Mr. Mossetty, a 35-year-old with a history of mental illness who was supposed to have been handcuffed, slipped away from the guards.

By the time he reached the bus, a 60-foot articulated vehicle with several entrances, he apparently had stripped off the orange jails smock and was clad in a white undershirt, an official with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said.

A spokeswoman for the Correction Department said that they were conducting a diligent search for the escapee.

“The department is working with the N.Y.P.D. and the U.S. Marshals to apprehend the individual at large,” said the spokeswoman, Annais Morales, in a statement on Thursday.

The detainee, James Mossetty, was being held on assault and drug charges and had long struggled with mental illness, his family said.Credit…Department of Correction

Martin Horn, who served as New York City’s correction commissioner under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said that escapes most often are the result of human error.

“The first responsibility of the jail is to hold the people committed to it securely and safely,” Mr. Horn said. “Any escape is a failure of that first responsibility — the first responsibility to the public.”

Mr. Horn said Mr. Mossetty’s escape raises questions about whether the officers had properly escorted him to the van — and whether they had handcuffed him correctly.

Although such escapes are rare in New York City’s jails, Mr. Horn said, they are more likely to occur during transportation to or from the jails, which Mr. Horn described as “a vulnerable time.”

The charges against Mr. Mossetty stemmed from cases in 2023 and 2021. He was accused of not paying for a $36 taxi ride from Midtown East to Chinatown in August last year. The same day he was busted with a plastic bag of methamphetamine in his left sock while inside the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse on Centre Street.

Earlier, in July 2021, Mr. Mossetty was charged with misdemeanor assault charges after police said he punched a man on the street in Midtown. He was being held on $3,000 bail.

A spokeswoman for the Legal Aid Society, which is representing him, declined to comment.

Family members said Mr. Mossetty was homeless and had struggled with bipolar disorder and drug abuse, and he had often landed in jail, where he recently became convinced that the guards were poisoning his food. They said they had tried for years to get him help but that city agencies had failed him, and that he had repeatedly tried to kill himself, including once by drinking the drain cleaner Drano.

One of his brothers, who asked not to be named, said he had just visited Mr. Mossetty on Tuesday in the hospital, where he was being held in the psychiatric prison ward, and recalled Mr. Mossetty being handcuffed when he was escorted by two guards into the room where the two men met.

Mr. Mossetty’s escape was the first this year and only the second since 2023, when another detainee, Yenchun Chen, fled Mount Sinai Beth Israel in Midtown Manhattan on Aug. 9.

Mr. Chen, who was jailed on drug charges, was being hospitalized after complaining of chest pain when he climbed out a window in a shower room, shimmied down nearly five stories and caught a cab. He stayed with friends and relatives until he was captured about a month later.

Weeks before that escape, another detainee, Bokeem Jones, nabbed a guard’s uniform from a Rikers gym and pretended to be an officer in a failed attempt to flee the jail. Mr. Jones knocked on a locked door and was let out by officers until they recognized him and stopped him, The New York Post reported last year.

For his part, Mr. Mossetty’s brother said he hoped Mr. Mossetty was located and returned to custody safely.

“I don’t want him to be on the run,” said the brother, who added that he was shocked that Mr. Mossetty was able to escape given the strict security he encountered during his visit earlier this week.

“They’ve got to get it together,” he said of the Correction Department. “They’re not doing a good job.”

Maria Cramer contributed reporting. Alain Delaquérière contributed research.

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