NEW YORK (AP) - A former Rikers Island guard convicted of ignoring the pleas of a dying inmate dabbed tears from his eyes Thursday after he was handed a five-year prison term by a judge who said the sentence was intended to be a deterrent to others.
NEW YORK (AP) — A former Rikers Island guard convicted of ignoring the pleas of a dying inmate dabbed tears from his eyes Thursday after he was handed a five-year prison term by a judge who said the sentence was intended to be a deterrent to others.
Former Department of Correction Captain Terrence Pendergrass was also fined $5,000 after a jury convicted him in December of depriving 25-year-old Jason Echevarria of his civil rights. The prisoner swallowed toxic detergent while housed in a now-closed solitary confinement unit for inmates who break jailhouse rules.
According to court papers, the 51-year-old Pendergrass told other jail employees he didn't want to be bothered unless there was a "dead body" in the cell after Echevarria told two other correction officers he swallowed the deadly substance.
"Such criminal indifference will not be tolerated," U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams said in Manhattan as she imposed the sentence but rejected a request by prosecutors that Pendergrass begin serving the prison term immediately.
Finding he had reliably shown up for his court appearances, the judge said he could report to prison Aug. 18.
The judge said deterrence was an important consideration so guards know they will be held responsible for wrongdoing even when they work in a troubled correction system or a jail such as Rikers. Federal sentencing guidelines had called for a sentence of roughly two years.
She also noted the difficulty of prosecuting civil rights cases.
Prosecutors had asked for a substantial punishment, saying in court papers that his crime was "particularly cruel."
Defense lawyer James G. Frankie wrote that Pendergrass had no reason to accept reports that Echevarria had swallowed a soap ball since it was without precedent that an inmate would receive an unauthorized soap ball and ingest it.
He said the claim that he had swallowed the soap ball seemed "more consistent with malingering to get out of a cell rather than a genuine call for medical assistance."
Conditions at the nation's second-largest jail system where about 11,000 inmates are regularly housed in 10 Rikers Island facilities have drawn considerable scrutiny over the last year after repeated reports of inmate beatings, guard corruption and the mistreatment of the mentally ill.
Federal prosecutors have been negotiating with the city after they joined a class-action lawsuit alleging systemwide brutality against Rikers Island inmates.