On Monday, C.O. Terrence Pendergrass was arrested by the FBI and charged with deprivation of rights under the color of the law in the death of an inmate at Rikers Island. If convicted, Pendergrass could face up to ten years in prison for the August 2012 death. At the time, Pendergrass was a captain, although he was later demoted for his role in the incident.
On August 18, 2012, inmate Jason Echevarria, 25, swallowed a soap ball he had been given to clean his cell after a raw sewage leak. When Echevarria began to complain of stomach pains, a corrections officer informed Pendergrass. The complaint alleges that Pendergrass said not to bother him unless "there was a dead body." Later, when the officer found that Echevarria had vomited all over the inside of his cell, he reported to Pendergrass again and Pendergrass said that the inmate should "hold it." Echevarria received no medical attention and was found dead in his cell the next morning.
Echevarria had a longstanding history of mental health issues and at the time of his death was being housed on a special mental health housing unit. He had previously been placed in solitary confinement after several suicide attempts, and had a history of attempting to swallow toxins, including a battery. The medical examiner ruled Echevarria's death a homicide due to "neglect and denial of medical care."
NBC quoted U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara as saying, “The Constitution protects the rights of everyone, including prison inmates at Rikers. The kind of conduct alleged today cannot be tolerated in our criminal justice system.”
Keri Blakinger is a freelance writer and prison reform activist. Follow her on Twitter @keribla or visit her blog for a steady stream of prison reform stories.