Death of Prison Inmate By Officers Ruled Homicide

30-year-old Samuel Harrell’s death at the Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon, New York, has been ruled a homicide, according to the autopsy report obtained by the New York Times. Specifically, the report detailed, Harrell died of cardiac arrhythmia, which resulted from a “physical altercation with corrections officers” — made evident by the cuts and bruises all over his body.

To date, none of the officers involved have had disciplinary action taken against them.

On the evening of his death, Harrell, who had a known history of bipolar disorder and subsequent erratic behavior, packed his belongings and announced he was going home — despite the remaining five years on his prison sentence. He was approached by possibly 20 corrections officers, some of whom have been linked to what prisoners call the “Beat Up Squad.” These officers kicked and punched Harrell and yelled racial slurs at him (Harrell was Black). Inmate Edwin Pearson (who has since been released) witnessed part of the attack and described what he saw: “Like he was a trampoline, they were jumping on him.”

It is unclear if Harrell was pushed or carried by the officers down a flight of stairs, where an anonymous inmate said he saw Harrell sprawled on the landing. “His eyes were open,” the inmate recounted, “but they weren’t looking at anything.”

Officers eventually called an ambulance but told the paramedics that Harrell may have overdosed on synthetic marijuana (K2), according to the records: “Staff reports that pt. was possibly smoking K2 and became very aggressive, shortly after he went unresponsive and into cardiac arrest.” At 10:19 PM, Harrell was pronounced dead at St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital.

Despite the report’s allegations that Harrell “became very aggressive,” inmates who witnessed the incident provided a different description, through letters and affidavits.

According to Pearson, the officers continued beating Harrell even though he was not fighting back. “I saw the officers kicking him, jumping on his head multiple times and screaming, ‘Stop resisting,’ even though I didn’t see him moving,” he recalled.

David Martinez, another inmate, said that officers attempted to put Harrell in a wheelchair but struggled to do so. According to Martinez, Harrell “was not responsive at all.” He “kept sliding off the wheelchair,” Martinez added.

Also contradictory to the report was Harrell’s alleged ingestion of K2. His autopsy revealed the only two things in his system were tobacco and an antidepressant.

Officials have not been forthcoming with details about the incident, citing an ongoing investigation. James Miller, a spokesperson for the corrections officers’ union (the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association), said this week the union “will continue to work with our partners in law enforcement to ensure a resolution to this tragic incident,” saying they were “reviewing all the facts before rushing to judgment.”

However, the “[rush] to judgment” may not be such a jump after all: the facility’s building 21, the building where Harrell resided until his death, has been cited as having a history of “harassment and provocation” by some of its officers, according to the Correctional Association of New York, a group that investigates conditions for inmates of New York State prisons. The group made the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision aware of its findings in 2013 to acting commissioner Anthony Annucci and former Fishkill superintendent William Connolly (Connolly resigned this month). However, as inmates continually allege, conditions have not improved.

The corrections department said in a statement, “Anyone found to have engaged in any misconduct or in any legal violations will be disciplined and prosecuted.”

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