On Monday, the FBI arrested a New York City correction officer and charged him with violating the civil rights of an inmate who died under the officerâ€™s watch. The FBI has alleged that Terrence Pendergrass refused to get medical help for a mentally ill inmate, Jason Echevarria, after the inmate swallowed cleaning chemicals while locked in his cell at Rikers Island. According to a New York Times story it is alleged that Echevarria died as a result of the officerâ€™s neglect.
The death occurred Aug. 18, 2012, after Echevarria swallowed a packet of cleaning chemicals. The inmate had been given the â€śsoap ball,â€ť as it is known at Rikers, to clean up after a raw sewage leak. After swallowing the chemicals Echevarria began vomiting and complaining of pain. A correction officer alerted Pendergrass, a Captain at the time, of Echevarriaâ€™s condition but Pendergrass told the officer not to bother him unless, â€śthere was a dead body,â€ť according to the FBI.Â
Pendergrass was alerted by a second officer of Echevarriaâ€™s condition but he still refused to call medical help for the inmate. According to the court documents Echevarria suffered from bipolar disorder and had a history of acting up. He was found dead in his cell hours later.Â
The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide as the result of â€śneglect and denial of medical care.â€ť The autopsy reveled that the chemicals had stripped the linings from Echevarriaâ€™s tongue and throat.Â
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City officials said it would have been difficult to convict Pendergrass of murder charges.
"We just didn't have sufficient evidence to move forward,â€ť Bronx District Attorney spokesman Steven Reed said last year, according to the New York Daily News.
The FBI then stepped in to seek justice for Echevarria.
"The publicâ€™s trust in law enforcement officers to enforce the law and ensure justice should never be abused," FBI Assistant Director George Venizelos told NBC New York. â€śThe FBI is the lead federal agency to investigate such abuses of power and it remains one of our top priorities.â€ť
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Pendergrass appeared in Federal District Court in Manhattan on Monday afternoon. He was charged with one count of deprivation of rights under the color of law and released on $250,000 bond. He could serve 10 years in prison if convicted.