NY prison investigated after mentally-ill prisoner dies following beating by guards
New York state law enforcement officials on Tuesday said there is an active investigation into the death of a prisoner who had a confrontation with a group of guards at its Fishkill Correctional Facility in April.
The death of Samuel Harrell, a 30-year-old who suffered from bipolar disorder, was first reported by the New York Times.
Inmates, the Times reported, described a pattern of brutality by officers at the medium-security prison located in Beacon, 65 miles north of New York City.
“Our investigation is ongoing and we expect to present the case to the Dutchess County District Attorney in the very near future,” Beau Duffy, director of public information for the New York State Police in Albany, told Reuters.
Harrell was beaten by as many as 20 officers, some belonging to a group called the “Beat Up Squad,” and either thrown or dragged down a staircase, the Times reported, citing multiple interviews with inmate witnesses.
“The investigation was opened the night of the incident, April 21,” Duffy told Reuters. He was pronounced dead that night at a nearby hospital.
Correctional officers called an ambulance but did not tell the medics about the physical altercation and instead said Harrell likely overdosed on synthetic marijuana, the Times reported.
“The DOCCS Office of Special Investigations is working with State Police and the Dutchess County District Attorney’s office in conducting an active investigation into this matter,” a spokeswoman from the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said in an emailed statement.
Fishkill has been criticized by prisoner advocates as a violent place for inmates, the Times reported.
The advocacy group Correctional Association of New York documented abusive behavior by correctional officers towards inmates at the prison in two reports released in 2005 and 2013.
Harrell, in prison for a drug conviction, got into a confrontation with officers after announcing that he was going home despite having years left on his sentence, the Times reported.
An autopsy by the Orange County medical examiner ruled Harrell’s death a homicide, the Times reported. Illicit drugs were not found in his system.
Following the incident, several inmate witnesses say they were punished with solitary confinement or threats of violence for speaking with Harrell’s family, attorneys and others, the Times reported.
No prison officers tied to the incident have been disciplined, it said.