A five-year prison sentence was reasonable for a Rikers Island guard convicted of standing by while an inmate who had swallowed a toxic soap ball writhed and died in a 2012 incident, the 2d U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled on Thursday.
Terence Pendergrass, a captain supervising a mental health unit, was convicted of violating inmate Jason Echevarria’s civil rights and sentenced by Manhattan U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams to more than twice the 27 months called for by federal sentencing guidelines.
The 2d Circuit said the tough sentence was justified due to Pendergrass’ “indifference and callousness” in allowing Echevarria to suffer, his interference with the attempts of others to get help, the ease of getting a doctor involved and his attempt at a cover-up.
The appeals panel also approved Abrams’ conclusion that a high sentence was warranted for purposes of deterrence, because civil rights cases are hard to prosecute.
Pendergrass had no previous disciplinary record, and his lawyer argued that the death was a result of systemic failures at Rikers but no one was punished except Pendergrass.