An autopsy obtained by the New York Times for an extensive investigative report into the alleged abuse at the Fishkill Correctional Facility in New York reveals that the April 2015 death of a Black inmate has been ruled a homicide.
Details of Samuel Harrell’s autopsy, which shows he had cuts and bruises to his head and extremities, confirm that he died of cardiac arrhythmia and not an overdose of synthetic marijuana, as prison guards initially claimed. In fact, according to the autopsy report, Harrell had no illicit drugs in his system.
The report corroborates a number of inmate claims that Harrell was beaten severely on April 21 during an encounter with prison guards. According to the Times, Harrell, who had a history of bipolar disorder, became erratic after believing he would be released from jail. Harrell, however, still had several years to serve on a drug charge. Inmates say as many as 20 officers were called to subdue the victim, including members of what prisoners call the “Beat Up Squad.” He was thrown to the ground, beaten and handcuffed as guards spewed racial epithets, the Times writes.
One inmate, identified as Edwin Pearson, says the guards jumped on him like a “trampoline.”
Mr. Harrell was then thrown or dragged down a staircase, according to the inmates’ accounts. One inmate reported seeing him lying on the landing, “bent in an impossible position.” “His eyes were open,” the inmate wrote, “but they weren’t looking at anything.” Corrections officers called for an ambulance, but according to medical records, the officers mentioned nothing about a physical encounter. Rather, the records showed, they told the ambulance crew that Mr. Harrell probably had an overdose of K2, a synthetic marijuana.
Harrell’s case is just one of many at the medium-security facility. Many inmates have reported enduring abuse at the hands of guards or being punished for speaking out against the abuse. Several tell the Times they have been placed in solitary confinement after speaking out about Harrell’s death at the prison with a storied past of violence.
From the NYT:
The prison building where Mr. Harrell died has long been singled out as a violent place. In 2013, the Correctional Association of New York, a 171-year-old inmate advocacy group with a legislative mandate to inspect New York State prisons, published a report documenting “harassment and provocation” by officers working in Building 21 from 3 to 11 p.m. This was the same time frame when Mr. Harrell died. The association, which found similar problems in 2005, briefed officials with the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision in fall 2013, including the acting commissioner, Anthony Annucci, as well as Fishkill’s superintendent, William J. Connolly, who resigned this month.
Even so, inmates said, the problems have persisted. Five weeks before Mr. Harrell’s death, David Martinez, an inmate in Building 21 who was serving time for attempted murder, among other charges, filed a grievance saying he was being assaulted and harassed by officers, and asking that the officers on that shift “be split up.” In a subsequent letter, he described them as “a group of rogue officers” who “go around beating up people.”
In July, another inmate, Rickey Rodriguez, said that officers beat him so severely that he lost his two front teeth and had to be hospitalized. Interviewed a little more than a week after he was released from prison, Mr. Rodriguez, who was serving time for attempted murder, was still covered with cuts and bruises, and the white of his right eye was stained red with blood. “They go out of their way to pick and choose to beat on guys,” he said.
None of the officers have been disciplined for their involvement in Harrell’s death because a homicide, while it indicates a death at the hands of other people, does not prove a crime was committed.
At the Times‘ request, the corrections department would not confirm the identity of all the guards involved.
SOURCE: NYT | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty