Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office Closes Criminal Investigation Into The April 21, 2015 Death Of Samuel Harrell At Fishkill Correctional Facility
Joon H. Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and William V. Grady, the Dutchess County District Attorney, announced today that there is insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges in connection with the death of Samuel Harrell. Mr. Harrell, who was an inmate at the Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon, New York, died on April 21, 2015, following an altercation with correctional officers. Mr. Harrell was 30 years old at the time. The Acting U.S. Attorney and the District Attorney met today with Mr. Harrell’s family and their representatives to inform them of this decision.
After conducting a thorough and independent investigation, career prosecutors determined that there is insufficient evidence to meet the high burden of proof required for a federal criminal civil rights prosecution. To prove a violation of the federal criminal civil rights statute, prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a law enforcement officer willfully deprived an individual of a constitutional right, meaning that the officer acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. Neither accident, mistake, fear, negligence nor bad judgment is sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation.
The Dutchess County District Attorney’s Office also finds that there is insufficient evidence to meet the high burden of proof necessary to support a prosecution under any State theory of homicide. Although there was a physical altercation with corrections officers, the theory of such a homicide prosecution would require that death occurred as a result of an intentional act, a reckless act, or a criminally negligent act. Any State law theory would require a direct causal connection between any injuries inflicted by the corrections officers and the resulting death. The uncontroverted findings of the autopsy in this case find no such connection.
The evidence developed during this investigation reveals the following: Mr. Harrell resided in Building 21 of the Fishkill Correctional Facility, which contains housing units for inmates, including inmates with mental health issues. On the evening of April 21, 2015, Mr. Harrell packed his personal belongings and told corrections officers that he was leaving the facility. Mr. Harrell had not yet completed his term of incarceration. A call was placed to the mental health unit for assistance. Mr. Harrell then ran from his housing unit and attempted to exit the facility. Mr. Harrell ran head-first into a locked exit door before a group of corrections officers used physical force to apprehend and handcuff him. Mr. Harrell was over six feet tall and weighed approximately 240 pounds.
There is no video evidence of the altercation between Mr. Harrell and the corrections officers and numerous eyewitness accounts of the incident, including those provided by inmates, are inconsistent and contradictory. After the altercation, Mr. Harrell and several officers were taken to the facility’s medical unit. One officer was transported to the medical unit on a stretcher and later treated at a hospital for bruised ribs. A group of officers transported Mr. Harrell to the medical unit in a wheelchair. Mr. Harrell had a faint pulse upon arrival, but shortly thereafter, his pulse could not be detected. Medical staff attempted to resuscitate Mr. Harrell. Mr. Harrell was transported to St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital, in Orange County, where he was pronounced dead.
The Orange County Medical Examiner performed an autopsy on April 22, 2015. The Medical Examiner concluded that, although the manner of death was noted in the report as “homicide,” the cause of death was “cardiac arrhythmia due to hypertensive cardiovascular disease following physical altercation with corrections officers.” In addition, the Medical Examiner found that Mr. Harrell suffered from cardiac hypertrophy, or an enlarged heart. No bone fractures or other serious injuries were found. While the Medical Examiner identified soft-tissue injuries on Mr. Harrell’s arms and legs and one soft-tissue injury on the front of Mr. Harrell’s head, there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that these injuries resulted from the use of excessive force. The Medical Examiner found no indication that Mr. Harrell was asphyxiated, and confirmed that none of the injuries, singularly or collectively, were a direct cause of Mr. Harrell's death.
In light of the absence of video evidence, the inconsistent eyewitness accounts, and the inconclusive medical evidence of excessive use of force, the Department of Justice could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that any corrections officer willfully violated Mr. Harrell’s constitutional rights.
This Office analyzed these issues under the standard applicable to criminal cases, which is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The Office expresses no view regarding any claims made against any party under the standard applicable to civil cases, which is proof by a preponderance of the evidence.
Accordingly, this Office’s investigation into Mr. Harrell’s death has been closed.
Mr. Kim thanked the Dutchess County District Attorney’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Investigators from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, SDNY, and the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision’s Office of Special Investigation for their assistance in this investigation.
Mr. Kim expressed his deep sympathy to the family of Mr. Harrell for their tragic loss.