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Ex-correction officer testifies against guard in Rikers death

Brian Coll, right, a former Rikers Island guard

Brian Coll, right, a former Rikers Island guard from Smithtown, was charged earlier this year with violating the civil rights of inmate Ronald Spear, left, by beating him, causing his death. He faces life in prison if convicted. Coll's trial began on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016. Credit: Zoe Salzman / NYC DOI

An ex-correction officer appearing at the trial of former Rikers Island guard Brian Coll on charges he kicked an inmate to death testified Monday he lied about the incident for years because he thought other guards would retaliate if he “snitched.”

Anthony Torres told jurors in federal court in Manhattan that he finally decided to turn on Coll, 47, of Smithtown, because he felt guilty about his role in covering up the 2012 death of inmate Ronald Spear, who was allegedly kicked in the head while Torres held him on the floor.

“I was tired of lying,” said Torres, who pleaded guilty to participating in a cover-up and will be sentenced after the trial. “My conscience was getting to me. Every day knowing what happened took its toll. . . . I know it was not going away, and it’s been burning me for a long time.”

Spear, 52, was awaiting trial at Rikers when he got into an altercation with Coll over seeing a doctor. Torres has said he tackled Spear, and then Coll kicked him four times in the head. Spear died of cardiac arrest at the scene. Coll faces up to life in prison if convicted of civil rights violations resulting in death.

Torres said that immediately after the altercation he began taking cues from Coll about the “story” they would tell investigators, never mentioning the kicks and falsely claiming that Spear attacked Coll with a cane.

He said he had long heard advice from other guards about how to “write” an incident up to avoid getting yourself or a fellow guard into trouble. “I was scared . . . by my own fellow officers,” he said. “You didn’t snitch on another officer.”

Retaliation could take many forms, he said. “They can give you a bad post, a post in a very dangerous area,” he testified. “If a problem happens, they might take a little time to get there, because you snitched and they know where you are.”

The trial is scheduled to resume Tuesday.

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