Rikers guards arrested in scheme to cover up a brutal beating that left an inmate dead

RikersSpencer PlattA view of the entrance to the Rikers Island prison complex.

Two jail guards who have worked at New York City’s Rikers Island complex were arrested on Wednesday on federal charges of involvement in an assault that led to the death of an inmate there in December 2012.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office announced the arrest of Brian Coll, a former officer, and Byron Taylor, who had been still employed at Rikers, over the death of Ronald Spear, a 52-year-old pre-trial detainee.

A spokeswoman for the prosecutors said Anthony Torres, a former Rikers correction officer, had agreed to cooperate with authorities and had pleaded guilty on Tuesday to obstructing justice and to filing false reports in the investigation of Spear’s death.

Rikers, one of the largest jail complexes in the United States with 11,400 prisoners on average a day, has gained notoriety for a culture of violence, including attacks by officers on prisoners and the deaths of several inmates.

Bharara’s office last December intervened in a lawsuit against New York City after finding widespread violations of teenage inmates’ civil rights at Rikers Island.

The criminal complaint released on Wednesday said that Coll repeatedly kicked Spear in the head while he was already restrained by correction officers including Taylor, and lying face down on the prison floor.

Spear suffered severe injuries and died, the complaint said. Officers including Coll and Taylor immediately after conspired to make the use of force appear warranted, the complaint said.

Coll, 45, was charged with five counts including deprivation of rights under colour of law and obstruction of justice. Taylor, 31, was charged with three counts including conspiring to obstruct justice and to lie to a federal grand jury.

Coll’s lawyer had no immediate comment. Sam Braverman, Taylor’s lawyer, said he planned to “defend him vigorously.”

A spokeswoman for the New York City Department of Correction had no immediate comment.

The death of Spear already had resulted in the city agreeing in July 2014 to a pay $US2.75 million to settle a lawsuit by his family.

The New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner had ruled the death a homicide.

The Bronx District Attorney’s Office investigated Spear’s death but concluded it could not prove criminal charges against the officers beyond a reasonable doubt. Bharara’s office then began its investigation.

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This article originally appeared at Reuters. Copyright 2015. Follow Reuters on Twitter.

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