Samuel Harrell, 30, was reportedly beaten by as many as 20 guards April 21 at the Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon, N.Y., about 60 miles north of New York City. Harrell, who suffered from bipolar disorder and was serving time in the prison for a drug conviction, was pronounced dead at a local hospital shortly after his confrontation with prison guards, including a group known at the facility as the Beat Up Squad.
According to the New York Times, the New York State Police are investigating Harrell's death at the medium-security facility, which has a notorious record of guards' "harassment and provocation" of inmates, according to the Correctional Association of New York, which released reports on the prison in 2005 and 2013. Weeks before Harrell was assaulted, a prisoner filed a letter complaining about "rogue officers" who "go around beating people up," according to the Times.
According to witnesses who spoke with the Times, Harrell, while handcuffed, was "kicked and punched" by officers, some of whom used racial epithets. "Mr. Harrell was then thrown or dragged down a staircase, according to the inmates' accounts. One inmate reported seeing him lying on the landing, 'bent in an impossible position,' " the Times reports.
"His eyes were open," according to the inmate, "but they weren’t looking at anything."
The Times notes that officials called for an ambulance but did not mention an altercation between the guards and Harrell. In fact, according to records, prison officials said only that Harrell had probably overdosed on synthetic marijuana. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.
An autopsy by the Orange County medical examiner ruled Harrell's death a homicide, identifying the cause of death as cardiac arrhythmia "following physical altercation with corrections officers," the Times reports. No drugs were found in his system.
The Times also notes that since Harrell's death, several inmates have been threatened by prison guards or harshly punished for speaking with the newspaper and Harrell's family.
State corrections officials say that an investigation is ongoing and vowed to punish any officer who violated the law. To date, no prison officials or guards have been disciplined in the case.
Read more at the New York Times.