3 Rikers prison workers charged over inmate’s death

Corrections officers work in the Enhanced Supervision Housing Unit at the Rikers Island Correctional facility in New York. (Reuters/Brendan McDermid)
Three Rikers employees have been arrested and charged over an assault that led to the death of an inmate. The Department of Justice said Ronald Spear died from a brutal beating, including kicks to the head, which Rikers personnel then tried to cover up.

The Manhattan US Attorney announced on Wednesday that former guards Brian Coll and Anthony Torres, as well as Byron Taylor, who is still employed at the prison, would be charged following the incident, which took place on December 19, 2012.

Spear, who was a pre-trial inmate at Rikers was being housed in the infirmary unit, as he was suffering from a terminal kidney disease. He tried to find the on-duty doctor, but was stopped by Coll, who was a corrections officer. A fight ensued with Coll punching Spear several times in the face and stomach, before Taylor and Torres restrained the inmate.

When the beating finally stopped, Mr Spear remained on the ground, moaning,” US Attorney Preet Bharara, said in a statement.

Coll then allegedly grabbed Mr Spear’s head, told him to quote, ‘Remember I am the one who did this to you,’ close quote, and then dropped Mr Spear’s head to the ground. Mr Spear died there on the jail floor minutes later.

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The medical examiner’s autopsy showed three bruises on Spear’s head and concluded he had died from “blunt force trauma” to the head.

Following Spear’s death, the Riker’s employees tried to cover up how he had died by concocting a false story that turned Spear into the aggressor and the inmate had turned on Coll with a cane.

Coll, 45, faces five counts, including a federal civil rights violation. Taylor, 31, was charged with three counts, including conspiring to obstruct justice. Meanwhile, Torres, 49, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to two counts, including obstructing justice, and is cooperating with authorities. All three face the prospect of decades in jail, if they are found guilty.

“As I have said before, Rikers inmates, although walled off from the rest of society, are not walled off from the protections of our Constitution,” Bharara said.

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New York City agreed to pay $2.75 million last year, without admitting any guilt, to settle a lawsuit filed by Spear’s family over his death. This was the largest payout by the city following a claim of violence against an inmate.

Spear’s sister, Nellie Kelly, told the New York Times that the settlement would have “no major impact on anything.” She added that it would be unlikely to change “the way that the officers behave,” or “the way the city allows them to behave.

Rikers is one of the largest prisons in the US and houses around 9,800 inmates. It has gained a reputation for having a culture of violence, which has seen attacks by officers on inmates, while there have also been several deaths of prisoners, cited Reuters.