Two prison guards at the Rikers Island complex in New York City were arrested on federal assault charges regarding a beating that led to an inmate’s death in 2012, reported Reuters.
Brian Coll, a former guard, and Byron Taylor, who’s still employed at Rikers Island, were arrested for their alleged involvement in the death of 52-year-old Ronald Spear. Spear was being held at Rikers Island as a pretrial detainee.
A third person, Anthony Torres, is a former Rikers Island guard who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for attempting to cover up Spear’s death.
According to a newly-released criminal complaint, Coll repeatedly kicked Spear in the head while being restrained by other officers, including Taylor. The attack continued even after Spear was laying on the floor, face down. Spear later died from his injuries.
Initially, Spear’s death was ruled a homicide, but Bronx prosecutors refused to press charges. The assault began when Spear complained to guards about a medical issue for which he sought attention.
Coll was charged with deprivation of rights under color of law and obstruction of justice. Taylor was charged with conspiring to obstruct justice and lying to a federal grand jury.
Spear’s death already sparked a civil case that resulted in his family winning a $2.75 million lawsuit. The office of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bhahara launched a criminal investigation after the Bronx office refused to do so.
Rikers Island has developed a notorious reputation for violence and renegade corrections officers. Spear’s family hopes the criminal case will highlight the atrocities that occur within the walls of Rikers Island.
“[We hope it] will bring justice to the officers who killed Ronald and covered up his death and also shine a window of accountability into the violence and corruption that pervades Rikers Island,” said the family.
The jail received negative press earlier this week when Kalief Browder, a young man who was held at Rikers Island for three years without a trial, committed suicide. In 2012, Browder was 16-years-old when he was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack. He never went to trial and was eventually released. A broken system cost this man three years of his life.
The injustice and mistreatment experienced by Browder took a permanent toll. Unable to readjust after the trauma, Browder took his own life.
Spear and Browder are examples of a larger problem. Systemic mistreatment and disregard for human life plagues America’s correctional institutions and takes countless lives each year.