- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - A New York City jail guard was convicted of a civil rights charge Wednesday after a jury concluded he ignored the pleas of a dying Rikers Island inmate who had swallowed a toxic soap ball.

Terrence Pendergrass, 50, shook his head repeatedly as the verdict was announced in Manhattan federal court after a one-week trial.

A jury deliberated less than a full day before concluding Pendergrass deprived Jason Echevarria of his civil rights while Echevarria, suffering from bipolar disorder, was in a solitary confinement cell for mentally ill inmates after suicide attempts.

Echevarria died in August 2012 after swallowing the detergent soap ball that he was given for cleanup after a sewage backup caused his and other cells to flood.

Authorities said two correction officers and a pharmacy technician became concerned after the inmate told them he’d swallowed the caustic cleaning agent, but Pendergrass ignored attempts by the officers to get help for Echevarria, who was held on a burglary charge. Left unattended for hours, Echevarria was discovered dead the following day.



U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams set sentencing for April 17, when Pendergrass could face up to 10 years in prison.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement that the conviction and “systemic, institution-wide reforms” his office is pursuing should prevent similar deaths in the future.

“Our efforts to reform Rikers Island continue,” Bharara said.

The conviction came on the same day that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ended the city’s longstanding practice of sending 16- and 17-year-old inmates to solitary confinement for breaking rules.

Last week, another Rikers guard, Austin Romain, was convicted on federal charges of accepting thousands of dollars in cash bribes to smuggle marijuana and other contraband into the prison for inmates.

Last month, former Correction Officer Khalif Phillips was sentenced to three years in prison after his conviction for narcotics-related offenses involving some of the same individuals as Romain.

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Associated Press Writer Jake Pearson also contributed to this story

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