Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces New Civil Rights Charges in Beating Death at Rikers Island
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today the return of a superseding indictment charging BRIAN COLL, a New York City Correction Officer, with causing the death of Ronald Spear, a pre-trial detainee at Rikers Island. COLL, then a correction officer on Rikers Island, had previously been charged with causing injury to Mr. Spear by repeatedly kicking him in the head while he was fully restrained and lying prone on the floor, in violation of his rights under the United States Constitution. Mr. Spear died shortly after the attack. Today’s Superseding Indictment newly alleges that COLL’s assault of Spear was the proximate cause of Spear’s death, and exposes COLL to a maximum prison term of life. COLL was arrested on a complaint on June 10, 2015, and has been in federal custody since that time.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Ronald Spear’s death at Rikers Island in December 2012 was a tragedy that should never have happened. As alleged, his tragic death was the direct result of Correction Officer Brian Coll’s unconstitutional beating. Repeatedly kicking a downed inmate in the head and then picking up and dropping his head on the ground as he lay helpless, as Correction Officer Coll is alleged to have done, had deadly consequences for Ronald Spear.”
According to the Complaint and Superseding Indictment:
Rikers Island is a jail complex, located in the Bronx, New York, maintained by the New York City Department of Correction. At the time of his death, Ronald Spear was a pretrial detainee incarcerated on Rikers Island in the North Infirmary Command, a facility housing detainees who, like Mr. Spear, have serious or chronic medical needs. In the early morning hours of December 19, 2012, Mr. Spear left the housing area in the infirmary unit in an attempt to see the on-duty doctor but was stopped by COLL, who said that the doctor was not available to see him. In an altercation that ensued, COLL punched Mr. Spear several times in the face and stomach, and Mr. Spear was then restrained by two other correction officers, Anthony Torres and Byron Taylor. While Mr. Spear was lying prone on the ground and was still restrained, COLL repeatedly kicked Spear in the head, even after Torres attempted to shield the inmate’s head with his hand and shouted to COLL to stop. After COLL stopped kicking Mr. Spear, COLL lifted Mr. Spear’s head up, told him in substance not to forget who had done this to him, and then dropped Spear’s head to the ground. Mr. Spear was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after the assault.
Spear’s autopsy was conducted at the Bronx Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. As described in today’s Superseding Indictment, the autopsy revealed that Spear had three recent contusions on his skull, including a “brain bleed” caused by blunt force impact to the head, consistent with Spear being kicked in the head while he was lying prone on the ground. The Medical Examiner conducting the autopsy concluded that the cause of death was “hypertensive cardiovascular disease” with “physical altercation including blunt force trauma to head” and diabetes as contributing factors, and ruled the death a homicide. The assault by COLL was therefore, as alleged, a proximate cause of Spear’s death.
COLL, along with another officer involved in the incident, Byron Taylor, is also charged with obstruction of justice related offenses for covering up COLL’s assault, which resulted in the death of Mr. Spear. The third officer, Anthony Torres, previously pled guilty to obstruction of justice charges and is cooperating with the Government.
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BRIAN COLL, 45, of Smithtown, New York, is charged with one count of death resulting from deprivation of rights under color of law, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison or death, one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, one count of obstruction of justice, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, one count of filing false forms, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to file false forms, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Byron Taylor, 31, of Brentwood, New York, is charged with one count of obstruction of justice by lying to a federal grand jury, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, one count conspiracy to file false forms, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and three counts of perjury, each of which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Anthony Torres, 59 of New Rochelle, New York, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and file false reports, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, and one count of filing a false report, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Torres is scheduled to be sentenced before Chief U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska on December 9, 2015.
The statutory maximum penalties are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencings of the defendants would be determined by the judge.
Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Criminal Investigators at the United States Attorney’s Office. Mr. Bharara also thanked the New York City Department of Correction, Investigative Division, and the Bronx District Attorney’s Office for their assistance in the investigation, which remains ongoing.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Civil Rights and Public Corruption Units. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brooke E. Cucinella and Jeannette A. Vargas are in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Superseding Indictment are merely accusations, and COLL and Taylor are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.