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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, December 15, 2016

Brian Coll, Former Correction Officer At Rikers Island, Convicted In Beating Death Of Inmate Ronald Spear

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that BRIAN COLL, a former New York City Correction Officer, was convicted of causing the death of Ronald Spear, a pre-trial detainee at Rikers Island.  COLL, then a correction officer on Rikers Island, had been charged in a superseding indictment returned on November 17, 2016, with causing Mr. Spear’s death by repeatedly kicking him in the head while he was restrained and lying prone on the floor, in violation of his rights under the United States Constitution.  Mr. Spear died shortly after the attack.  COLL was arrested on a complaint on June 10, 2015, and has been in federal custody since that time.  COLL was convicted after a 10-day trial before U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said:  “Today, a unanimous jury in Manhattan federal court affirmed that the protections of the U.S. Constitution extend into the walls of our prisons, including Rikers Island.  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.  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.”

According to the evidence introduced at trial: 

Rikers Island is a jail complex, located in the Bronx, New York, maintained by the New York City Department of Correction.  At the time of his death, Ronald Spear was a pretrial detainee incarcerated on Rikers Island in the North Infirmary Command, a facility housing detainees who, like Mr. Spear, have serious or chronic medical needs.  In the early morning hours of December 19, 2012, Mr. Spear left the housing area in the infirmary unit in an attempt to see the on-duty doctor but was stopped by COLL, who said that the doctor was not available to see him.  In an altercation that ensued, COLL punched Mr. Spear several times in the face and stomach, and Mr. Spear was then restrained by two other correction officers, Anthony Torres and Byron Taylor.  While Mr. Spear was lying prone on the ground and was still restrained, COLL repeatedly kicked Spear in the head, even after Torres attempted to shield the inmate’s head with his hand and shouted to COLL to stop.  After COLL stopped kicking Mr. Spear, COLL lifted Mr. Spear’s head up, told him to remember who had done this to him, and then dropped Spear’s head to the ground.  Mr. Spear was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after the assault.

Spear’s autopsy was conducted at the Bronx Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.  The autopsy revealed that Spear had at least three recent contusions on his skull, and that he had suffered a “brain bleed” caused by blunt force trauma to the head, consistent with Spear being kicked in the head while he was lying prone on the ground.  Mr. Spear suffered a cardiac arrhythmia as a result of the head trauma.  The assault by COLL was therefore, as the jury found, the cause of Spear’s death.

After Spear’s death, COLL, Taylor, Torres and others, covered up the true cause of Spear’s death by concocting a false story that turned Spear into the aggressor, falsely claiming that Spear had attacked COLL with a cane.  Specifically, COLL falsely claimed that Spear had attacked him with a cane, and Torres agreed to support this false version of events and further agreed not to not relay that COLL had repeatedly kicked Spear in the head.  Additionally, at the request of TAYLOR, COLL, TORRES, and an additional correction officer agreed to falsely claim that TAYLOR was not present for the incident.  Consistent with their agreement, the conspirators filed false use of force reports with the Department of Correction and lied repeatedly to Department of Correction supervisors, investigators, and to the Bronx District Attorney’s Office.

The conspirators propagated this false version of events after being advised by a Rikers captain to be consistent in the use of force reports the officers were required to submit following Spear’s death.   Additionally, when no cane was recovered from the crime scene – potentially calling into doubt COLL’s claim that Spear had attacked him with a cane – a Rikers captain simply directed a correction officer to take a cane from a supply area and to pass it off to investigators as the cane used in the incident.               

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BRIAN COLL, 47, of Smithtown, New York, was convicted of one count of death resulting from deprivation of rights under color of law, which carries a maximum penalty of  life in prison or death, one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, one count of obstruction of justice, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, one count of filing false forms, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to file false forms, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.  COLL is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Preska on April 24, 2017.

Byron Taylor, 32, of Brentwood, New York, has pled guilty to one count of perjury for lying to a federal grand jury, which carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.    

Anthony Torres, 50 of New Rochelle, New York, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and file false reports, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, and one count of filing a false report, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. 

The statutory maximum penalties are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencings of the defendants would be determined by the judge.

Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Criminal Investigators at the United States Attorney’s Office.  Mr. Bharara also thanked the New York City Department of Correction, Investigative Division, and the Bronx District Attorney’s Office for their assistance in the investigation.

This case is being handled by the Office’s Civil Rights and Public Corruption Units.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brooke E. Cucinella, Jeannette A. Vargas, and Martin S. Bell are in charge of the prosecution.   

 

Topic(s): 
Civil Rights
Press Release Number: 
16-340
Updated December 15, 2016