FBI arrests corrections officer in death of Rikers Island inmate
The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested a corrections officer on Monday after he allegedly ignored the desperate please for help from an inmate with mental health issues died who later died.
Former Captain Terrence Pendergrass was picked up and charged in the death of Jason Echevarria, who died on Aug. 19, 2012 after he ingested cleaning products given to Rikers Island inmates to keep up their cells.
If found guilty, Pendergrass faces up to ten years in prison.
Echevarria, 25, was housed at the jail’s Mental Health Assessment Unit for Infracted Inmates — a section for inmates identified as needing mental health treatment who at violated facility rules.
The complaint alleges that when the officers who unknowingly gave Echevarria the supplies called Pendergrass, he told them to only call him if they needed help extracting an inmate from a cell “or if there was a dead body.”
When one of the officers told Pendergrass that the inmate was throwing up in the cell, Pendergrass reportedly said that Echevarria should “hold it.”
“No report was ever filed … documenting that Echevarria requested or needed medical help, nor was Echevarria provided with medical help,” wrote the investigating officer in the complaint.
Echevarria eventually died despite multiple officers and a pharmacy technician alerting Pendergrass to the need for immediate medical attention, as well as various inmates having heard him banging on the cell door asking for help.
“Jason Echevarria should not have died,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in s statement. “As alleged, Terrence Pendergrass abused his power as a Rikers Island captain in charge of a vulnerable population of inmates with mental health issues by denying Echevarria access to medical care despite his obvious and urgent medical need for it.”
Last November, the Bronx District Attorney’s office said that it investigated the case but dropped it due to “insufficient evidence to prove that their conduct rose to the level of criminal liability.”
The news comes days after the Associated Press reported on the death of homeless veteran Jerome Murdough, who was also classified as emotionally disturbed and placed under suicide watch. Murdough was found dead on Feb. 15 in his cell that overheated to at least 100 degrees.
Follow Chester Jesus Soria on Twitter @chestersoria