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Former Rikers guard from Smithtown’s federal trial begins

The eastern section of Rikers Island jail complex

The eastern section of Rikers Island jail complex in Queens is seen in this photo from June 11, 2014. Credit: AP

The federal trial of a former Rikers Island guard from Smithtown charged with beating an inmate to death is expected to begin with opening statements Friday in Manhattan federal court after lawyers finished empaneling a jury late Thursday.

Brian Coll, 47, faces up to life imprisonment if jurors conclude that he violated the civil rights of prisoner Ronald Spear by allegedly kicking him in the head in a 2012 incident, and that Spear died as a result. Coll also faces cover-up charges. A 10-year veteran of the city Correction Department, Coll has been jailed since his arrest last year.

Spear, awaiting trial on burglary charges, was in the jail infirmary for dialysis to treat end-stage renal disease when an altercation broke out with guards over his demands for a doctor. Coll allegedly kicked Spear repeatedly in the head after he was subdued.

A key issue in the case, according to pretrial filings, is likely to be whether the alleged head-kicks were the cause of Spear’s death from heart failure. Spear had pre-existing heart disease, court filings say.

Prosecutors contend the stress induced by Coll’s blows to the head triggered cardiac arrest, but the defense says the government can’t establish whether Spear’s heart gave out due to stress from legal efforts to subdue him before the kicks, or from the kicks, or for other reasons.

Coll was originally charged after an investigation by federal authorities and the city Department of Investigation with violating Spear’s civil rights, which carried a maximum of 10 years in prison. The death element, carrying up to life in prison, was added later.

The city paid $2.75 million to settle a civil suit by Spear’s family. Coll’s fellow guard Byron Taylor, 32, of Brentwood, previously pleaded guilty to being part of a cover-up and is scheduled to be sentenced this month.

Another former guard involved in the incident, Anthony Torres, 50, of New Rochelle, also pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the government, according to officials.

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