- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 1, 2015

Authorities have filed new charges against a former Rikers Island corrections officer now accused of being responsible for an inmate’s death in 2012.

A superseding indictment unsealed on Tuesday this week now charges the ex-jailer, 45-year-old Brian Coll, with causing the death of Ronald Spear nearly three years ago inside a New York City prison. 

Mr. Coll was already facing the possibility of 75 years in prison as a result of civil rights and cover-up charges previously filed against him following the inmate’s December 2012 death. Upon further investigation of the circumstances surrounding the incident, however, federal prosecutors now say they believe the Rikers guard “was the proximate cause” of the man’s death and have charged him as such.

Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement this week that Spear’s death “was the direct result of Correction Officer Brian Coll’s unconstitutional beating.”

The city had previously reached a $2.75 million settlement with the Spear’s family over the inmate’s death, but autopsy results have since given prosecutors reason to believe Mr. Coll played a more straightforward role than once believed.

According to the new indictment, the autopsy has suggested that Spears suffered from a “brain bleed” in parts of his skull where authorities say he was repeatedly kicked by Mr. Coll while other jailers attempted to intervene. That investigation ruled the man’s death a homicide caused by “hypertensive cardiovascular disease,” but amplified by blunt force trauma and diabetes,

“They’re kicking him!” and “They’re killing him!” other inmates yelled as they looked on with horror during the assault, according to claims laid out by the Justice Department in this week’s filing.

“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,” said Mr. Bharara, the federal prosecutors.

Sam A. Schmidt, an attorney for Mr. Coll, told the New York Times this week that Spears’ health problems and aggressive actions toward the officer immediately preceding the incident are the real causes of the inmate’s death.

“The jury will be able to see the other side of the story and not simply the allegations by the government,” Mr. Schmidt told the newspaper.
If that jury ultimately convicts Mr. Coll on the latest charge, than the former Rikers guard risks being sentenced to life behind bars.

A second officer, Byron Taylor, 31, is also currently waiting to stand trial over charges that he lied to the grand jury investigating the inmate’s death. Yet another guard, Anthony Torres, 59, has already pleaded guilty to filing a false report and conspiracy to obstruct justice in the case and is expected to learn his fate before the end of the year.

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