A current and former Rikers Island correction officer were arrested in an inmate's 2012 beating death, and a third guard has already pleaded guilty in the case after a federal investigation revealed the guards in the nation's second-largest jail system conspired to lie about what happened, authorities announced Wednesday.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced the arrests of former guard Brian Coll and current guard Byron Taylor in Ronald Spear's death following a federal investigation that began when state authorities decided not to bring charges.
"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.
The investigation showed how the guards worked together to thwart investigators who tried to learn how the 52-year-old inmate, who was awaiting trial on a burglary charge, was killed on December 19, 2012, according to a description of the case in a criminal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court.
Spear was held face-down on the jail's floor in view of fellow inmates shouting, "They're kicking him!" and "They're killing him!" according to the criminal complaint written by FBI Agent Vanessa M. Tibbits.
She wrote that witnesses said Coll struck and kicked Spear repeatedly before kneeling on the floor next to a moaning Spear, lifting his head, and saying, "Remember that I'm the one who did this to you," before dropping his head on the hard floor.
The FBI agent said a corrections captain told investigators that Coll asked in a phone call about six to eight months after Spear died whether he should get a tattoo of a teardrop on his eyelid, a symbol that investigators say members of street gang's use after a gang member kills someone. She said the same captain was told by Coll after the state court case ended without charges that "I beat the case."
The complaint said two guards were cooperating in the probe, including former corrections officer Anthony Torres, 59, of New Rochelle, who has pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit obstruction of justice and filing a false report.
Coll, 45, of Smithtown, was charged with depriving Spear of his rights, obstruction of justice, filing a false report and conspiracy while Taylor, 31, of Brentwood, was charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Authorities say Taylor helped restrain Spear and then lied about his role.
New York City settled a lawsuit last year for $2.75 million stemming from the death, which was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner's office. Lawyers say Spear complained that guards retaliated against him for contacting lawyers about his kidney disease treatment.
Attorney Samuel Braverman said lawyers "will defend Mr. Taylor vigorously and cross each bridge as we get to it."
A lawyer for Torres declined to comment while a lawyer for Coll did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
New York's 11,000 daily inmate jail system has come under increased scrutiny over the past year after the deaths of two seriously mentally ill inmates at Rikers Island, among other problems.
Subsequent investigations by the media, city investigators and lawmakers have drawn attention to the jails, whose problems Mayor Bill de Blasio has said were decades in the making and will not be fixed overnight.
The Associated Press