A correction officer has been charged by the FBI for violating the civil rights of an inmate who swallowed a toxic soap ball and died after the officer refused him medical treatment. According to the criminal complaint, Jason Echevarria, who suffered from bipolar disorder, banged on his cell door and vomited on the floor as he pleaded to see a doctor. DOC Captain Terrence Pendergrass allegedly refused, telling his subordinates that Echevarria could "hold it."
The Medical Examiner determined that Echevarria's death in August of 2012 was a homicide, and that the chemical in the soap ball, ammonium chloride, has corroded his tongue and throat. Echevarria, 25, had been placed in solitary confinement after several suicide attempts, and was given the soap ball to clean out a sewage leak in his cell.
The Times reports that Pendergrass, 49, was demoted after the incident, and suspended without pay yesterday.
Another guard was fired over Echevarria's death, but has since sued the city and the DOC, claiming that he had alerted Pendergrass to the prisoner's pleas. The criminal complaint notes that at least two correction officers told Pendergrass that Echevarria needed medical attention; Pendergrass allegedly said not to inform him unless "there was a dead body."
"Mr. Pendergrass took his authority as a supervisory correction officer to the extreme and violated the rights of an inmate in his charge to the point that it resulted in death," FBI Assistant Director in Charge George Venizelos says in a statement.
The case comes a few days after the Times reported that the use of force against prisoners at Rikers had climbed 240%, and that 40% of the jail's 12,000 inmates were mentally ill. The "culture of indifference" at Rikers noted in the Times' story was exemplified in an AP report on Jerome Murdough, a homeless veteran who overheated and died in his Rikers Island prison cell.