A Rikers Island guard is facing charges of conspiring with two other guards to lie about kicking an inmate to death in 2012, federal prosecutors announced Wednesday, the Associated Press reports. Prosecutors also announced two arrests and a guilty plea.
According to the report, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said that Brian Coll, a former guard at the New York City jail complex, and a current correction officer, Byron Taylor, had been arrested in relation to the death of Ronald Spear. Their arrests follow a federal investigation prompted by state authorities’ decision not to bring charges in the case.
“Rikers inmates, although walled off from the rest of society, are not walled off from the protections of our Constitution,” Preet said at a news conference, according to AP.
The prosecutor lamented “more sad news out of Rikers Island,” notorious for its tales of corruption and inmate abuse. As AP notes, the news also comes six months after the city was sued for what the U.S. Department of Justice called a “deep-seated culture of violence” toward its inmates.
A federal investigation into Spear’s death showed that guards conspired to stop investigators from looking into how the 52-year-old inmate died in custody while awaiting trial on a burglary charge in December 2012.
Spear was reportedly held facedown on the jail floor, within the view of other inmates, who were screaming, “They’re kicking him!” and “They’re killing him!” a criminal complaint from an FBI agent read.
In the complaint, FBI Agent Vanessa M. Tibbits said that witnesses described the now-former guard, Coll, as having repeatedly kicked the older man before kneeling down next to him, lifting his head and taunting him, “Remember that I’m the one who did this to you,” before dropping the inmate’s head.
Tibbits also said that a correction captain told investigators that Coll asked whether he should get a teardrop tattoo on his eyelid about six to eight months after Spear’s death, a ritual that gang members sometimes do after killing someone.
After the state court case ended without Coll’s being charged, he reported to his captain, “I beat the case,” Tibbits added.
Two other Rikers guards allegedly helped Coll lie about the inmate’s death.
Former Correction Officer Anthony Torres, 49, pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to commit obstruction of justice and filing a false report. Taylor, 31, is facing charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Authorities also say that Taylor helped restrain the inmate and then lied about his role in the incident.
The alleged main culprit, 45-year-old Coll, is being charged with depriving Spear of his rights, obstruction of justice, filing a false report and conspiracy.
According to AP, a conviction on the obstruction charge could yield up to 20 years in prison. Sentencing guidelines, prosecutor Brooke E. Cucinella notes, call for upward of 10 years in prison on that charge.
Taylor has since been released on $200,000 bail, while Coll, whose bail was set at $500,000, was expected to post bail and be released Thursday. As part of his release, he is not to possess any dangerous weapons or use alcohol excessively. He was also ordered to keep far from any potential witnesses and must get mental-health and substance-abuse treatment.
An attorney for the Spear family said that the family was thankful that federal prosecutors have taken up the case. The family settled a lawsuit with the city last year for $2.75 million.
Read more at Talking Points Memo.