New York City

Rikers Guard Convicted in 2012 Beating Death of Sick Inmate

What to Know

  • Prosecutors say guard Brian Coll "savagely" kicked inmate Ronald Spear to death in December 2012
  • Defense attorneys say Spear resisted guards' efforts to restrain him and that Coll is not responsible for his death
  • NYC previously paid out $2.75 million to Spear's family

A Rikers Island guard has been convicted of civil rights violations, conspiring to falsify records and other crimes in the 2012 beating death of a sick inmate who prosecutors say he kicked in the head repeatedly as the man lay defenseless.

Brian Coll, 47, was convicted Thursday in a unanimous jury decision in Manhattan federal court.

"For his brutal and heartless beating of 52-year-old Ronald Spear, a sickly Rikers inmate, and his lies to cover it up, Brian Coll now stands convicted of serious federal crimes," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement. "As the evidence at trial established, Coll killed Spear by repeatedly kicking him in the head as he lay restrained on the ground, telling him before he died not to forget who did this to him. The FBI investigators and career prosecutors on this case did not forget. And today, neither did the jury."

At trial, defense attorney Joshua Dratel had blamed Spear for the deadly confrontation, saying his "aggressive resistance" to guards subduing him led to his death. Dratel said prosecutors had no credible evidence about Coll kicking Spear. He suggested some evidence may show Spear was dead before any kicks were alleged to have occurred. 

"His death was not the result of Mr. Coll's conduct," Dratel said of Spear, who suffered from numerous serious health issues, including diabetes and kidney disease. Spear was being held on a burglary charge. 

New York City previously paid out $2.75 million to Spear's family.

The conviction comes amid calls for reform or a shutdown of the 400-acre island in the East River that holds most of the city's 10,000 inmates. Gov. Cuomo has called for the jail complex to be replaced. Mayor de Blasio has said calls to close Rikers are "noble" but possibly impractical given financial and logistical realities. 

The push for reform began in 2014 after The Associated Press reported on dozens of deaths that highlighted poor supervision, questionable medical care and failure to prevent suicides. Those deaths included a homeless ex-Marine who essentially baked to death in a hot cell and a mentally ill man who sexually mutilated himself while locked up alone for seven days. 

Last year, Bharara announced a deal with lawyers for injured inmates and New York City to reduce widespread violence at Rikers through the installation of 8,000 surveillance cameras in a 10-jail complex, retraining of correction officers, punishment of guards for excessive force and the supervision of a court-appointed monitor. 

The monitor, Steve Martin, said in October that Rikers' guards strike too many inmates in the head, a tactic meant only as a last resort because it can be fatal. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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