U.S. News

Ex-guard at New York's Rikers jail sentenced 30 years for inmate death

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former guard at New York City’s troubled Rikers Island jail complex was sentenced on Wednesday to 30 years in prison after being found guilty of violating the civil rights of an inmate by kicking him repeatedly in the head, causing his death.

FILE PHOTO: Brian Coll, former Rikers Island guard, accused of causing the death of an inmate in 2012 after repeatedly kicking him in the head, is shown in this New York City Department of Investigation photo released in New York, U.S. on November 23, 2016. Courtesy New York City Department of Investigation/Handout via REUTERS

Brian Coll, 48, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska in Manhattan, after being convicted in December by a federal jury of causing the death of 52-year-old inmate Ronald Spear.

“Mr Coll kicked a man to death,” Preska said. “In my view, this is an exceedingly serious offense.”

“I am truly sorry Mr Spear died because I lost control of myself,” Coll said before being sentenced. “I never had any intent to badly hurt or kill Mr Spear.”

One of Coll’s lawyers, Sam Schmidt, declined to comment after the hearing.

Two of Spear’s relatives, niece Tiara Kelly and cousin Donna Spear, spoke in court shortly before Coll was sentenced.

Kelly described Spear as a “second father,” while Donna Spear said he had helped raise her own children.

“We are extremely satisfied with the sentencing,” Kelly told reporters after the hearing.

Coll was arrested in June 2015, nearly a year after the city agreed to a $2.75 million settlement with Spear’s family.

Coll’s lawyers argued during his trial that prosecutors could not prove the kicking killed Spear, who suffered from severe medical problems.

The case is one of several by prosecutors against workers at Rikers, one of the country’s largest correctional institutions, which has been plagued by violence and corruption.

In March, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would close Rikers in as little as 10 years, citing falling crime levels that he said portend a long-term trend.

Prosecutors said that in December 2012, Spear, who suffered from end-stage kidney disease, asked to see a doctor but was stopped by Coll, who said the doctor was not available.

According to testimony at the trial, that started a fight that ended with two other officers restraining Spear on the ground while Coll kicked him repeatedly in the head. Spear was pronounced dead soon after that.

Jurors found that Coll worked with the two other officers, Brian Taylor and Anthony Torres, to cover up the assault, falsely claiming that Spear attacked Coll with a cane. Both Taylor and Torres pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the cover-up, and Torres testified against Coll.

Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Andrew Hay