This June 20, 2014 file photo shows the Rikers Island jail with the New York skyline in the background.
Photo by Seth Wenig/AP

Prison guards arrested in beating death of Rikers inmate


Two New York corrections officers were arrested Wednesday morning for beating a prisoner to death at Rikers Island and trying to cover it up, according to federal authorities.

FBI agents arrested former officers Brian Coll and Byron Taylor for the 2012 death of Ronald Spear, a 52-year-old man who suffered from kidney disease and walked with a cane. Spears, a burglary suspect, was awaiting trial at the time of the beating.

“As I have said before, Rikers inmates, although walled off from the rest of society, are not walled off from the protections of our Constitution,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara during a press briefing Wednesday.

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Federal authorities said Spears was taken to the jail infirmary when he began arguing with the guards about his medical care. The altercation escalated, when according to a criminal complaint, Coll “repeatedly kicked Spear in the head” and Taylor restrained the inmate, leaving him lying face-down on the prison floor. Coll continued to kick Spear, even after another correction officer stepped in, told him to stop and even tried to protect the beaten man from the blows. Coll then allegedly held the detainee, said “that’s what you get for f***ing with me” and then “remember that I’m the one who did this to you,” before slamming his head to the ground.

Spear was later pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy conducted by the Bronx Chief Medical Examiner revealed that the inmate had three head contusions consistent with being kicked in the head while lying on the ground.

The U.S. attorney’s office said both officers concocted a story to cover-up the events and lied to both authorities and a federal grand jury, falsely claiming that Spear had tried to attack the guard with his cane. They conspired to report the events in ways that were within policies that justified use of force. According to federal authorities, the officer’s captain – who was not named – was also involved in the cover-up, refusing to accept reports that were not “consistent.” The officials continued, alleging that a Rikers captain instructed a guard to take a cane and “pass it off to investigators as the cane used in the incident.”

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Coll faces a charge of deprivation of civil rights, filing false report and obstruction of justice, among others. Taylor is charged with obstruction of justice for lying to a federal grand jury. Anthony Torres, the third corrections officer at the scene who initially restrained Spear before attempting to step in and stop Coll’s beating, has pled guilty earlier this week to conspiracy to obstruct justice for his involvement in the cover-up.

New York City agreed last summer to pay a $2.75 million settlement to Spears’ family for the case, the latest in a string of fatal assaults at the hands of Rikers officers.

“Today, we hear the call of Spear and other victims whose constitutionally protected rights have been abused and violated.  We remember their collective plea for justice,” Assistant Director-in-Charge Diego Rodriguez said in a statement. ”And we vow never to forget our obligation to remove from the criminal justice.” system those who do not uphold the tenets of the legal system.”