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Rikers guard from Brentwood sentenced in Ronald Spear case

Byron Taylor, center, a former New York City

Byron Taylor, center, a former New York City correction officer from Brentwood, exits a federal courthouse in Manhattan after taking a plea on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. Credit: Charles Eckert

A Rikers Island jail guard from Brentwood pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday to participating in the cover-up of a brutal beating of inmate Ronald Spear in 2012 that led to Spear’s death.

Byron Taylor, 32, pleaded to perjury before a federal grand jury and conspiracy to obstruct justice, and will face a likely sentence of 15 to 21 months at his scheduled sentencing before U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska on Dec. 20.

“Today is me accepting responsibility for my wrongdoing,” a subdued Taylor told Preska during a brief plea hearing. “Since my arrest I have been doing everything to try to make this right and move forward in life.”

Taylor’s fellow former guard Brian Coll, 46, of Smithtown, is charged with brutally beating Spear, an inmate awaiting trial on burglary charges — punching him and repeatedly kicking him in the head in a dispute over Spear’s efforts to see a doctor.

The beating allegedly led to Spear’s death from a “brain bleed” caused by the blunt force of the blows, and a cover-up. Coll is scheduled to go to trial next month, and faces up to life in prison if he is convicted.

Taylor was accused of restraining Spear, but he did not plead guilty to any charges relating to the beating. A third defendant, Anthony Torres, 50, of New Rochelle, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice last year, and is cooperating with the government.

Taylor, who allegedly asked others to say he wasn’t present at the beating, never mentioned Spear by name during his plea.

“I knew what I was doing was illegal and wrong,” he said. “I also would like to apologize to all parties involved.”

Taylor began working at Rikers in April 2012, eight months before the incident. Family members said he was a Brooklyn College graduate with a business degree who once owned a sneaker store. He was suspended when charged, and the city said he would now be fired.

“Everyone in our custody deserves to be treated in a just and humane manner,” Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte said in a statement, adding that he predicted reforms at Rikers since 2012 would reduce misconduct.

The city settled a lawsuit brought by Spear’s family for $2.75 million in 2014.

Jonathan Abady of Manhattan, a lawyer for the family, said that a “passionate plea” to get Bronx prosecutors to bring charges over Spear’s death had failed following the 2012 incident.

“This prosecution and guilty plea illustrates the critical importance of federal intervention,” Abady said.


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