Rikers Island Guards|Charged in Inmate’s Death

     MANHATTAN (CN) – After kicking a restrained inmate in the head, a Rikers corrections officer told the dying inmate to “remember that I’m the one who did this to you,” a criminal complaint alleges.
     The charges unveiled Wednesday implicate three officers for alleged crimes surrounding the death of Ronald Spear, a sickly pretrial inmate who died on Dec. 19, 2012, after being beaten on the floor of the Rikers Island prison medical facility.
     At a press conference, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara wasted no time in speaking about the prosecution in light of his office’s crackdown on civil-rights infractions at Rikers.
     “Rikers inmates, although walled off from the rest of society, are not walled off from the powers of our Constitution,” he said.
     While being held at North Infirmary Command, Spear demanded to see a doctor at 5 a.m. about his liver disease, and he got into a profanity-laced argument with corrections officer Brian Coll, prosecutors say.
     “Spear was placed in the NIC because, among other afflictions, he suffered from end-stage renal disease and required regular dialysis,” the complaint states. “While housed in NIC, Spear wore glasses, a bracelet indicating that he was a ‘risk of fall,’ and typically walked with a cane.”
     After the doctor postponed the appointment, Coll and Spear “began jabbing at each other, with Coll then punching Spear in the face,” the complaint states, relying on the testimony of another guard turned confidential government witness.
     Two of the corrections officers there at the time of the alleged assault are named as confidential witnesses in the complaint. One had to calm down the inmates “who were becoming agitated and had begun yelling things along the lines of ‘What are they doing to him?’ and ‘They’re going to kill him,'” according to the complaint.
     The other witness restrained Spear by putting him face down on the ground with his hands behind his back, prosecutors say.
     “Almost immediately after this occurred – and while the second confidential witness had both of Spear’s hands secured behind his back and was physically on top of Spear – Coll became irate, stood up and yelled ‘Motherfucker!’ and reared his foot back. Coll proceeded to kick Spear in the head and pulled his foot back to do it again,” the complaint states.
     The onslaught continued “even after another correction officer told to Coll to stop and attempted to shield Spear’s head from further blows,” prosecutors say. “After Coll kicked Spear in the head multiple times, Coll bent down and picked up Spear’s head.”
     “Coll put his face inches away from Spear, and stated words to the effect of ‘That’s what you get for fucking with me,’ and ‘Remember that I’m the one who did this to you.’ Coll then dropped Spear’s head and it struck the hard prison floor,” according to the complaint.
     The prison’s “probe team” responded “moments later,” but Spear was unresponsive, prosecutors say.
     The Bronx Chief Medical Examiner determined the cause of Spear’s death to be “hypertensive cardiovascular disease, with ‘physical altercation including blunt-force trauma to head’ and diabetes mellitus as contributing factors,” according to the complaint.
     At a press conference, Bharara remarked: “The alleged cover-up of this vicious crime began almost immediately.”
     Officers Byron Taylor, Anthony Torres and Coll allegedly lied on use-of-force reports, misled Department of Corrections investigators and the Bronx District Attorney’s office.
     “And when Taylor came to testify before a federal grand jury in this district, he allegedly lied there too,” Bharara told reporters.
     Torres, now a cooperating witness,faced a charge that carries a total of 20 years imprisonment.
     Coll, 45, faces a maximum penalty of 70 years in prison if convicted of all charges.
     Taylor, 31, may face up to 40 years in prison.
     When the Bronx District Attorney’s office declined to prosecute these cases, Spear’s family wrote Bharara’s office a letter, the federal prosecutor said at the conference.
     Meanwhile, time is running out for New York City to settle a separate case that Bharara’s office filed late last year to order Rikers Island to agree to systemic reforms in their juvenile prison.
     Since a two-year federal investigation wrapped up in September 2014, Bharara has denounced what called a “Lord of the Flies” climate for teen inmates and urged City Hall to take action before the June 22 deadline.
     “We are impatient about it,” he said.
     Bharara kept mum on what other alleged civil-rights violations his office may be investigating at Rikers. He declined to comment on a recently filed class action in the same courtroom, alleging an alarming pattern of rape in the prison.

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