He Sat in Rikers for 5 Months; $2 Would Have Freed Him

Aitabdel Salem says he didn't know his bail had changed
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 2, 2016 8:17 AM CDT
He Sat in Rikers for 5 Months; $2 Would Have Freed Him
A solitary confinement cell at New York's Rikers Island jail.   (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Aitabdel Salem needed to hand over only $2 to bail himself out of Rikers Island, a fact he found out after a five-month stay. The 41-year-old Queens man was initially jailed on $25,000 bail for allegedly attacking an officer who arrested him on suspicion of theft at a retail store on Nov. 21, 2014, reports the New York Daily News. A week later, prosecutors couldn't get an indictment, and Salem was ordered released. First, though, he needed to pay $1 bail for each of two other charges of tampering and mischief—and he would have, had he been informed of the change. The Algerian native says his lawyer at the time, a legal aid defender, never told him that a $2 bill would be enough to set him free—the equivalent of a slice of pizza in New York City, notes the Washington Post.

Salem "was shocked and dismayed and frustrated that his case was unconscionably mishandled," his new lawyers told a hearing. He was finally released in the spring of 2015, but he missed the police assault arraignment in May of that year—and Salem blames that on another communication foul-up by his original attorney involving an errant address. Still, the mix-up led to charges of bail jumping, and Salem was sent back to jail with bail set at $30,000. He remains locked up. Salem's case "is representative of New York City's broken bail system," writes a blogger at ThinkProgress. (A teenager who spent three years in Rikers for stealing a backpack killed himself last year, and a woman claims her nightmare experience there ruined her.)

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