NYC Settles Wrongful Death Claim Involving Alleged Fatal Beating of Inmate for $2.75 Million


August 07, 2014

New York City has settled a wrongful death claim for $2.75 million that involves the death of a prison inmate.  Ronald Spear’s family claims that guards brutally beat their loved one to death according to the New York Times.  The settlement was reached after the medical examiner determined that the death was a homicide caused by “blunt force trauma” to the head.  The medical examiner’s report also indicated that Spear suffered blunt force trauma to his torso and arms.  Spear walked with a cane and had kidney issues at the time of the attack according to the court filing.  The lawsuit alleged that the attack was in retaliation for Spear’s complaints that prison doctors and guards were withholding treatment for his kidney condition.

The city has denied any wrongdoing as part of the settlement of the wrongful death claim.  The lawsuit cited sworn statements by two other inmates that alleged Mr. Spear had been kicked in the face and chest by one guard while two other guards pinned him to the ground.  The witnesses reportedly indicated that an officer grabbed Spear’s arm and hit him three or four times until he fell to the ground.  While Spear was laying on the ground, two other officers held him down while the officer who hit Spear repeatedly kicked him in the chest and face.  A third inmate who also provided a statement indicated that he saw the guard kicking Spear as he was lying on the ground and not moving.

After his arrest, Spear filed a lawsuit that alleged that he had been refused medication while incarcerated.  The lawsuit also indicated that he suffered “severe physical pain” related to the refusal.  According to the complaint filed in his civil lawsuit, he also alleged that guards were retaliating against him for his complaints about being denied dialysis and medication.  Spear was killed about two weeks after filing the lawsuit.

While the lawyer for Spear’s family in the wrongful death lawsuit have emphasized that money cannot really compensate them for their loss, they believe the settlement suggests that something definitely happened that should not have occurred.  While legal claims involving inmate mistreatment can present difficult issues of proof, there are legal remedies available to those who are the victims of beatings while in custody.  These options include the following:

  • Lawsuit for Violation of Federal Civil Rights: If a correctional officer uses excessive force on an inmate or otherwise violates his constitutional right, the inmate might have a legal claim under Section 1983 of the U.S. Code.
  • Pursuing a Civil Rights of Institutional Persons Act (CRIPA) Complaint: This act provides a process that allows incarcerated individuals in state prison or county jail to report abuse to the Department of Justice.
  • Other Remedies: There may be other remedies available under state and federal law, so the best course of action is to consult an experienced attorney who handles personal injury and wrongful death cases.

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Sources:

 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/21/nyregion/new-york-city-to-pay-2-75-million-to-settle-suit-in-death-of-rikers-island-inmate.html?_r=0

 http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/21/us-usa-newyork-jail-idUSKBN0FQ18G20140721

 http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/uscode/42/21/I/1983

 http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/dead-rikers-inmate-family-2-75-million-article-1.1874542

Category: Personal Injury

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