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3 Rikers guards charged in 2012 beating death of inmate and coverup

Former Rikers guard charged with beating an inmate to death in 2012; 2 others charged with covering it up

One current and two former Rikers Island jail guards were charged in the 2012 beating death of an inmate, federal prosecutors in New York said Wednesday.

Manhattan U.S. Atty. Preet Bharara said Brian Coll, 45, violated inmate Ronald Spear’s rights by using deadly force on him even though Spear walked with a cane and was being restrained by other guards.

Coll punched Spear in the face and repeatedly kicked him in the head, telling him, "Remember that I'm the one who did this to you," Bharara said.

Coll, who is no longer a correctional officer, and a current Rikers guard, Byron Taylor, 31, were arrested Wednesday. A third man, former guard Anthony Torres, 49, pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and filing a false report.

All three men were charged with lying to law enforcement officials and trying to cover up the attack. 

The arrests come days after the suicide of a Bronx man who spent three years at Rikers awaiting trial -- two of them in solitary confinement. Kalief Browder, 22, was arrested at age 16 on suspicion of stealing a backpack. The charges were eventually dropped and Browder’s name was cleared, but his time at the Bronx-based facility affected his mental health.

“Rikers inmates, although walled off from the rest of society, are not walled off from the protections of our Constitution,” Bharara said in announcing the guards' arrest.

Spear, 52, was awaiting trial on a burglary charge at the time he died. Because he suffered from kidney disease, he was housed in a dormitory for inmates with severe illnesses or chronic medical needs. Spear’s end-stage renal disease required him to undergo frequent dialysis at the prison’s medical facilities and at outside hospitals.

According to the complaint, unsealed Wednesday, Coll and Spear got into an argument early in the morning of Dec. 19, 2012. Spear had wanted to visit the prison’s doctor and was frustrated when Coll told him he couldn't be seen right away. The two men began yelling at one another.

A witness who was not identified in the complaint said Coll began to punch Spear in the face. Spear seemed to raise his hand, but the witness didn't see Spear's fist touch Coll.

Torres and Taylor subdued Spear, holding his arms behind his back as he lay face-down on the prison floor, according to the complaint. Then, authorities say, Coll began kicking Spear in the head as he was restrained on the ground.

Torres tried to throw his arm between Coll’s foot and Spear, shouting for Coll to stop kicking the inmate, the complaint says, but Coll kicked Torres’ wrist, injuring him, and continued to kick Spear.

Then, according to witnesses cited in the complaint, Coll lifted Spear’s face close to his own.

“That’s what you get,” he said, according to the complaint. “Remember that I’m the one who did this to you.”

The complaint alleges Coll then dropped Spear's head, letting it strike the prison floor.

Spear stopped breathing shortly afterward. Emergency responders pronounced him dead at the scene, and a coroner said the blunt-force trauma to Spear’s skull was consistent with being kicked.

After investigators began to look into Spear’s death, Coll, Taylor and Torres allegedly lied, falsified reports and intimidated others into hiding the nature of the incident.

Coll told investigators that Spear had attacked him with his cane. Taylor and Torres initially corroborated that account. But Torres later admitted he was lying. In pleading guilty, he said he had tried to shield Spear from Coll's foot during the attack.

Bharara said no cane was recovered from the crime scene, so "a Rikers captain simply directed a correction officer to take a cane from the supply area and pass it off to investigators as the cane used in the incident."

Twitter: @katemshepherd

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