Two Correction Officers from LI Charged in Death of Rikers Inmate

Rikers Island
An aerial view of Rikers Island.

Two correction officers from Long Island—one is no longer on the job—were charged in a federal complaint for allegedly covering up a “brutal beating” that led to the death of a Rikers Island inmate, prosecutors announced Wednesday.

The most serious of the charges involves 45-year-old Brian Coll of Smithtown, who repeatedly kicked inmate Ronald Spear three years ago while he was being restrained, federal prosecutors alleged in court documents.

Coll, now a former corrections officer, was charged with deprivation of rights and conspiracy to obstruct justice, among other charges. His colleague, 31-year-old Byron Taylor of Brentwood, was also charged with obstruction of justice.

A third correction officer, 59-year-old Anthony Torres of New Rochelle, pleaded guilty this week to one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and filing false reports.

Spear, 52, was pronounced dead shortly after the alleged beating, prosecutors said. At the time of the incident, he was being held at the jail on burglary charges.

“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 US Attorney Breet Bharara, whose office is prosecuting the case.

The alleged incident and subsequent cover up occurred in the early morning hours of Dec. 19, 2012 inside the North Infirmary Command wing of the infamous Bronx jail, prosecutors said.

Spear, who had been receiving dialysis treatment for a kidney disease, had left the housing area in the infirmary and wanted to meet with the on-duty doctor, prosecutors said, when he was stopped at the door by Coll, who told him the doctor was unavailable to see him.

An altercation ensued, with Spear and Coll allegedly jabbing at each other, according to the criminal complaint.

Coll, prosecutors alleged, then proceeded to punch Spear in the face and stomped on him as he lay face down on the floor, while he was being restrained by both Taylor and Torres.

According to the complaint, inmates who witnessed the alleged beating began yelling, “They’re killing him!”

An unidentified correction officer who restrained Spear yelled “No!” and “Don’t” as Coll allegedly continued to stomp on the inmate, prosecutors said.

“That’s what you get for fucking with me,” Coll allegedly told Spear, according to the complaint.

Inmates told Department of Justice investigators that Coll and Spear were involved in a verbal dispute days before the alleged incident.

Spear was pronounced dead at the scene, the complaint states.

An autopsy later determined that Spear had died from high blood pressure, and from a “physical altercation including blunt force trauma” to the head as well as diabetes.

After the incident, Coll, Taylor and Torres allegedly covered up the incident by creating a false story, accusing Spear of attacking Coll with a cane. A cane was never discovered at the scene, prosecutors said.

A fourth correction officer, who eventually agreed to cooperate with investigators, also agreed to the false narrative, prosecutors said. Additionally, Taylor allegedly convinced those involved to keep him off official reports, saying, “I wasn’t here.”

Spear had been detained inside a section of the facility that houses detainees with serious or chronic medical needs and had been wearing a bracelet indicating he was at “risk of fall.”

Coll and Taylor face up to 70 years and 40 years in prison, respectively, if convicted.

According to the New York Times, the city agreed to pay Spear’s family $2.75 million in damages to settle a lawsuit stemming from his death.