Ronald Spear was arrested and charged with burglary in September 2012. He awaited trial at Rikers Island. He was 52-years-old and had health problems. He had a kidney disease and he walked with a cane. He needed dialysis and other treatment.
He believed the jail was not providing him sufficient treatment, and two months after arriving there, he sued the jail. In the suit, he wrote that the jail officials didn’t appreciate his demands for better care: “I have correction officers retaliating against me.”
Two weeks after filing the lawsuit, Spear was dead. The medical examiner’s office ruled it a homicide and concluded that “blunt force trauma” helped cause the death.
On Monday, the city agreed to pay Spear’s family $2.75 million. The family had sued, claiming the jail was responsible for Spear’s death.
The lawsuit stated that corrections officers had targeted Spear because he was contacting Legal Aide Society lawyers and pursuing a lawsuit. He had complained to guards about not getting proper care for his condition. In his lawsuit, Spears alleged that he was experiencing “severe physical pain” because the jail denied him medication.
The family’s wrongful death lawsuit cited statements from inmates who claimed to have seen a group of corrections officers assaulting Spear. According to two inmates, Spear had asked to see a captain to discuss his medical issues on morning before his death.
That, the suit stated, was when a guard began beating Spear, knocking him to the ground. According to three inmates, two guards then held Spear down while a third kicked him in the face.
The Department of Corrections told the New York Times that the guards faced disciplinary action and one was fired.
Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson, though, decided not to press criminal charges. In May, his office told the Daily News that it “found it couldn’t prove criminal responsibility (on the officers’ behalf) beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Last week, the Times published an in-depth investigation into assaults by Rikers Island guards. One internal city document showed that 129 inmates suffered “serious injuries” from altercations with corrections officers during a recent 11-month stretch. Eighty percent of the inmates interviewed in the document said that they were still wearing handcuffs during the incident.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 22, 2014