Ex-guard at N.Y.'s Rikers jail convicted over inmate's death

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 15, 2016 1:23 PM

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former guard at New York City's troubled Rikers Island jail complex was found guilty on Thursday of causing the death of an inmate in 2012 by repeatedly kicking him in the head while he was restrained on the floor.

Brian Coll, 47, was convicted by a federal jury in Manhattan of the most serious count he faced, causing the death of 52-year-old inmate Ronald Spear in what prosecutors called a brutal beating. Coll could face life in prison when he is sentenced.

The jury also found Coll guilty of obstructing justice and falsifying records in connection with a cover-up with other Rikers guards to impede the investigation into Spear's death.

Coll's lawyers' argued that prosecutors lacked evidence to show the kicking caused the death of Spear, who suffered from severe medical problems. A Coll lawyer, Sam Schmidt, said he plans to appeal.

"We're obviously disappointed," he said.

The case is one of several by prosecutors who have targeted workers at Rikers, one of the country's largest correctional institutions. Authorities have been trying to stem violence and corruption that have long plagued the facility, which currently houses 7,226 inmates.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office prosecuted Coll, previously sued the city over a pattern of violence against juvenile inmates, a case that ended after the city agreed to make reforms.

Coll, who will be sentenced on April 24, was arrested in June 2015, nearly a year after the city agreed to a $2.75 million settlement with Spear's family over his death.

According to prosecutors, on Dec. 19, 2012, Spear, who suffered from end-stage renal disease, sought to see an on-duty doctor but was stopped by Coll, who said he was not available.

Prosecutors said Spear then kicked Coll, leading the officer to punch Spear and two other officers to restrain the inmate on the ground. Rather than stop there, Coll then repeatedly kicked Spear in the head, they said.

Soon after, Spear was pronounced dead.

Coll then worked with the two other guards, Brian Taylor and Anthony Torres, to try to cover up the assault. Both Taylor and Torres pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the cover-up, and Torres testified against Coll as a cooperating witness.

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)