A Manhattan jury found a former Rikers Island correction officer from Smithtown guilty Thursday of violating the civil rights of an inmate who died in 2012 after the guard repeatedly kicked him in the head while other officers held him down.
Brian Coll, 47, was also found guilty of obstruction of justice, falsifying records, and conspiring with others to cover up the death of the inmate, Ronald Spear, 52, who died on Dec. 19, 2012.
Spear’s stepmother, Margaret Daniels, 71, and his sister, Deneen Cobbs, 52, both of the Bronx, gently clapped their hands after the guilty verdicts were announced.
“My son can rest in peace,” Daniels said.
In an interview afterward, Cobbs said the verdict “doesn’t bring him back but justice was delivered.”
The jury of seven women and five men deliberated for about four hours over two days before reaching a verdict. They all declined to comment Thursday.
Coll’s conviction comes at a time when Rikers — a complex that currently houses more than 7,000 inmates — is undergoing reforms spurred by a class-action lawsuit brought by inmates.
The office of Preet Bharara, the United State’s attorney for the Southern District of New York, later joined the suit.
“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,” Bharara said in a news release.
On the day of the beating, Spear had been on Rikers for about three months awaiting trial on burglary charges, prosecutors said. He was ill with diabetes, heart disease and end-stage renal disease that required regular dialysis.
The altercation began after Spear wanted to see a unit doctor and was stopped by Coll, who said the physician was not available, according to the prosecution.
Spear argued with Coll, then kicked and shoved the officer to get by him and go to the doctor’s office anyway. Coll punched Spear in the face and stomach and then two other guards held Spear face down on the ground.
At that point, Coll kicked Spear on the side of the head three or four times, which the prosecution said was excessive use of force.
In closing remarks this week, prosecutor Brooke Cucinella said the kicks were so hard that they caused bleeding in Spear’s brain. He died of cardiac arrhythmia shortly after the attack.
Sam A. Schmidt of Manhattan, one of Coll’s attorneys, said he was disappointed with the verdict and will appeal.
“The manner that the government developed their case and argued their case to the jury was much more on sympathy than on the facts,” he said.
The verdict, Schmidt said, drew little reaction from Coll. “Our client basically remained the same. He’s sort of numbed,” Schmidt said.
Coll, who is being held on a $500,000 bond, faces up to life in prison on a charge that he violated Spear’s civil rights to be free from excessive force. He is scheduled to appear before U.S. District Court Judge Loretta Preska on April 24 for sentencing.
After the beating, the prosecution said Coll and the two guards — Byron Taylor, 32, of Brentwood, and Anthony Torres, 50, of New Rochelle — covered up the true cause of Spear’s death by falsely claiming that Spear had attacked Coll with a cane.
No cane was found at the scene, according to the prosecution.
A captain ordered a guard to take a cane from a supply area and pass it off to investigators as the one Coll falsely said Spear used to attack him, prosecutors said.
Taylor and Torres both pleaded guilty to taking part in the cover-up and each faces up to 5 years in prison. They are awaiting sentencing.