A former guard at New York’s troubled Rikers Island jail complex is set to go on trial for the fatal 2012 beating of an inmate.
Brian Coll, 47, faces up to life in prison if he is convicted by a federal jury in Manhattan on charges that he violated the civil rights of Ronald Spear and then covered up the crime. Opening statements in the case are expected on Friday.
Rikers Island, one of the country’s largest correctional institutions, has been plagued for decades by what critics say is pervasive abuse and corruption. Mayor Bill de Blasio has sought to implement changes and increase funding at the complex.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office is prosecuting Coll, previously sued the city over a pattern of violence against juvenile inmates, a case that ended after the city agreed to a raft of reforms.
On Dec. 19, 2012, Spear and Coll had a disagreement after the guard told the prisoner that a doctor he wanted to see for a kidney ailment was not available, prosecutors have said.
Coll punched Spear several times and then, as two other guards held him down, kicked the prisoner repeatedly in the head, according to prosecutors. Spear died soon after the assault.
Prosecutors have said the guards filed false reports and lied to investigators in an effort to hide the attack.
The other two guards, Brian Taylor and Anthony Torres, have already pleaded guilty to their roles in the cover-up. Torres is cooperating with authorities.
A lawyer for Coll did not respond to a request for comment late on Thursday, but the defense is expected to question whether the alleged beating directly caused Spear's death.
New York City agreed to pay $2.75 million to Spear’s family to settle litigation over his death.