Two Long Island men -- one a former and the other a current Rikers Island correction officer -- were charged Wednesday with civil rights violations and a cover up in connection with the 2012 beating death of an inmate awaiting trial at the New York City jail.
Prosecutors alleged in a complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan that former officer Brian Coll, 45, of Smithtown repeatedly kicked prisoner Ronald Spear in the head while he was restrained by other officers, including Byron Taylor, 31, of Brentwood.
In an altercation set off in the jail's infirmary by Spear's demands to see a doctor, the complaint said, "Coll continued to kick Spear in the head even after another correction officer told Coll to stop and attempted to shield Spear's head from further blows."
"After Coll kicked Spear in the head multiple times, Coll bent down and picked up Spear's head," the complaint added. "Coll put his face inches away from Spear, and stated words to the effect of 'that's what you get for [expletive] with me,' and 'remember that I'm the one who did this to you.' "
Coll is charged alone with depriving Spear of his civil rights, but the complaint charges that he and Taylor also conspired in a cover up, and that Taylor lied before a federal grand jury investigating the case.
Prosecutors also separately released a complaint against another guard, Anthony Torres, 49, of New Rochelle, saying he aided in the cover up. Officials said Torres, who tried to shield Spear, pleaded guilty on Tuesday, and is cooperating with the investigation. Another unidentified guard was given immunity and is also cooperating, the complaint said.
The charges come as the Justice Department has joined a lawsuit alleging widespread civil rights violations at Rikers, and is pressing the city for reforms. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the charges illustrated the need to clean up a culture of violence at Rikers.
"Rikers inmates, although walled off from the rest of society, are not walled off from the protections of our Constitution," he said at a news conference.
Eve Kessler, a spokeswoman for the city's correction department, said, "While the vast majority of our uniformed staff carry out their duties with care and integrity, we are taking many steps to ensure that all staff adhere to the highest level of professionalism."
Coll, who left Rikers voluntarily in 2014, was held after being unable to post a $500,000 bond in court late Wednesday. His lawyer said Coll is separated from his wife and children, has been receiving psychiatric treatment since 2012, is subject to a protective order from his father, and lives off workers comp. No one answered the door at his Smithtown home.
Taylor was released on his own signature and a promise to post a $200,000 bond, and was placed on modified duty by Rikers. He declined to comment as he left court.
In an interview at the family home in Brentwood, his mother, Ruby Taylor, said he was a Brooklyn College business graduate and former owner of a sneaker store who wouldn't hurt anyone.
"That's not the kind of person he is," she said. "He doesn't drink. He doesn't smoke. He doesn't even go out and party. He just goes to work and home. And he's not the kind of person that will hold somebody down or do anything to hurt a person. I brought him up to do the right thing and that's the way he's been all his life."
The complaint said Spear was awaiting trial on burglary charges and housed in the jail infirmary for dialysis because he had end-stage renal disease. Coll was a 10-year veteran manning a control center, and Taylor began working at Rikers in early 2012.
On Dec. 19, 2012, the complaint said, Spear and Coll got into a profane shouting match over Spear wanting to see a doctor, and then began fighting. After Spear was restrained on the floor by Taylor and others, it said, Coll began kicking him in the head. He became unresponsive and died shortly afterward, it said.
Prosecutors said Coll, Torres, who helped restrain Spear, and the third guard given immunity all lied in official reports and to the Bronx district attorney, saying Spear attacked Coll with a cane, not recounting the head-kicking, and agreeing to Taylor's request to not mention his presence.
The complaint also said that representatives of the correction officers union counseled the guards and "stressed the importance of all of the correction officers 'being consistent' in their use of force reports," and that later an unidentified captain at Rikers procured a cane that was passed off to jail investigators as the weapon Spears purportedly brandished.
Bharara said the probe was ongoing, but would not specifically identify union officials or that captain as targets. The union did not respond to calls for comment.
Coll, according to the complaint, showed little remorse over Spear's death. In a conversation with a Rikers supervisor months after the death, it said, he asked if he should get a teardrop tattooed on his eyelid -- a gang symbol for a killing -- as a result of the episode.
"You know," he allegedly explained, "when you get a body."
Coll faces up to 75 years in prison if convicted, Taylor could face up to 45 years; Torres, up to 25 years.
With Darran Simon
and Kevin Deutsch