Two Long Island men -- a former and a current Rikers Island correction officer -- were charged on Wednesday with civil rights violations and a cover up in connection with the 2012 beating death of an inmate awaiting trial at the New York City jail.
Prosecutors alleged in a complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan that former officer Brian Coll, 45, of Smithtown, repeatedly kicked prisoner Ronald Spear in the head while Spear was restrained by other officers, including Byron Taylor, 31, of Brentwood.
In an altercation set off in the jail's infirmary by Spear's demands to see a doctor, the complaint said, "Coll continued to kick Spear in the head even after another correction officer told to Coll to stop and attempted to shield Spear's head from further blows."
"After Coll kicked Spear in the head multiple times, Coll bent down and picked up Spear's head," the complaint added. "Coll put his face inches away from Spear, and stated words to the effect of 'that's what you get for [expletive] with me,' and 'remember that I'm the one who did this to you.' "
Coll is charged alone with depriving Spear of his civil rights, but the complaint charges that he and Taylor also conspired to cover up what happened, and that Taylor lied before a federal grand jury investigating the case.
Prosecutors also separately released a complaint against another guard, Anthony Torres, 49, of New Rochelle, for aiding in the cover up. Officials said Torres, who tried to shield Spears, pleaded guilty on Tuesday, and is cooperating with the investigation. Another unnamed guard was given immunity and is also cooperating, the complaint said.
The charges come at a time when the U.S. Justice Department has joined a lawsuit over alleged widespread civil rights violations at Rikers, and is pressing the city for reforms. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan said the charges illustrated the need for change to clean up a culture of violence at Rikers.
"Rikers inmates, although walled off from the rest of society, are not walled off from the protections of our Constitution," he said at a news conference.
Eve Kessler, a spokeswoman for the New York City Correction Department, said, "While the vast majority of our uniformed staff carry out their duties with care and integrity, we are taking many steps to ensure that all staff adhere to the highest level of professionalism."
Coll and Taylor were expected in court on Wednesday afternoon. In an interview in front of Taylor's family home in Brentwood, his mother, Ruby, said he was a business management graduate of Brooklyn College and the former owner of a sneaker store who wouldn't hurt someone.
"That's not the kind of person he is," she said. ". . . He doesn't drink. He doesn't smoke. He doesn't even go out and party. He just goes to work and home. And he's not the kind of person that will hold somebody down or do anything to hurt a person."
"I brought him up to do the right thing and that's the way he's been all his life," she added.
The complaint said Spear was awaiting trial on burglary charges and housed in the jail infirmary for dialysis because he suffered from end-stage renal disease, Coll was a 10-year employee manning a control center, and Taylor began working at Rikers in early 2012.
On Dec. 19, 2012, the complaint said, Spear and Coll got into a shouting match involving profanities over Spear's desire to see a doctor, and then began fighting. After Spear was restrained on the floor by Taylor and others, it said, Coll began kicking him in the head. He became unresponsive and died shortly afterward, it said.
Prosecutors said that Coll, Torres, who helped restrain Spear, and the third guard who got immunity all lied in official reports and to the Bronx District Attorney, saying Spear had attacked Coll with a cane and not mentioning the head-kicking, and agreed with Taylor to not mention his presence.
The complaint also said that representatives of the correction officers union counseled the guards and "stressed the importance of all of the correction officers 'being consistent' in their use of force reports," and that later an unnamed captain at Rikers procured a cane that was passed off to jail investigators as the weapon Spears purportedly brandished.
Bharara said the investigation was ongoing, but would not specifically identify union officials or that captain as targets.
Coll, according to the complaint, showed little remorse over Spear's death.
In a conversation with a Rikers supervisor months after the incident, it said, he asked a Rikers supervisor if he should get a gang tattoo -- a teardrop on his eyelid -- as a result of the incident.
"You know," he allegedly explained, "when you get a body."Coll faces up to 75 years in prison, Taylor faces up to 45 years in prison, and Torres faces up to 25 years in prison.
With Darran Simon