Fishkill Prison Guards Will Not Face Charges in ’15 Death of an Inmate

On the night he died, April 21, 2015, Mr. Harrell had been acting strangely, the statement said. He packed his belongings and told corrections officers that he was leaving the prison, the statement said, even though there were years left on his eight-year sentence on a drug charge. He then ran head first into a locked exit door “before a group of corrections officers used physical force to apprehend and handcuff him,” the statement added.

A New York Times investigation several months after Mr. Harrell’s death cited 19 affidavits and letters written by inmates who said that he had been handcuffed and severely beaten by as many as 20 guards, some known around the prison as the Beat Up Squad. He was then thrown or dragged down a staircase, the witnesses said.

The state corrections department provided scant information about the circumstances surrounding Mr. Harrell’s death at the time. The prison officers’ union said that he had seemed delusional and was acting violently, possibly after ingesting drugs. The officers involved in the episode also told an ambulance crew that Mr. Harrell had probably overdosed, according to hospital records.

But an autopsy did not find illicit drugs in Mr. Harrell’s system. According to the autopsy report, Mr. Harrell died of cardiac arrhythmia after a “physical altercation with corrections officers.”

The medical examiner ruled that Mr. Harrell suffered from cardiac hypertrophy, or an enlarged heart, and found no bone fractures or other serious injuries, the prosecutors’ statement noted. “While the medical examiner identified soft-tissue injuries on Mr. Harrell’s arms and legs and one soft-tissue injury on the front of Mr. Harrell’s head,” the statement said, “there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that these injuries resulted from the use of excessive force.”

Photo

Mr. Harrell with his niece in an undated family photo.

The medical examiner found no indication that Mr. Harrell was asphyxiated, the statement added, “and confirmed that none of the injuries, singularly or collectively, were a direct cause of Mr. Harrell’s death.”

A homicide ruling by a medical examiner means that a death occurred at the hand of another person, though not necessarily that a crime was committed. No one was disciplined in Mr. Harrell’s death.

Preet Bharara, who was then the United States attorney in…

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