NEW YORK (Reuters) - Federal prosecutors have joined an investigation into the death of a New York prison inmate who was involved in a confrontation with guards at the Fishkill Correctional Facility in April.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of New York said on Thursday his office is working with the local district attorney in Dutchess County, New York, to investigate the April 21 death of Samuel Harrell.
Lawyers for Harrell's family have said he was beaten to death by corrections officers.
The New York Times, which earlier this month was the first publication to document Harrell's death, reported that inmates at Fishkill described a pattern of brutality by officers at the medium-security prison in Beacon, 65 miles (105 km) north of New York City.
The New York State Police began looking into the death on the night of April 21, when Harrell was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Harrell, who suffered from bipolar disorder, got into a confrontation with officers when he announced he was going home despite having years left on his sentence for a drug conviction, the Times reported.
He was beaten by as many as 20 officers and either thrown or dragged down a staircase, inmates who witnessed the incident told the newspaper. Some of the guards were part of a group inmates called the "Beat Up Squad," the newspaper reported.
Corrections officers called an ambulance but did not mention the fight to medics, speculating instead that he had overdosed on drugs, the Times said. The county medical examiner ruled Harrell's death a homicide, according to the Times.
The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision did not immediately comment on Bharara’s statement. Earlier this month, a spokesman said the agency was working with state authorities to investigate the incident.
A lawyer for Harrell's family could not immediately be reached for comment.
In June, New York City agreed to institute reforms at the troubled Rikers Island jail complex to resolve civil claims brought by Bharara’s office that guards regularly used unnecessary force against inmates.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)