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 officer’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 officer’s neglect.
The death occurred Aug. 18, 2012, after Echevarria swallowed a packet of cleaning chemicals. The inmate had been given the “soap ball,” 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 Echevarria’s condition but Pendergrass told the officer not to bother him unless, “there was a dead body,” according to the FBI.
Pendergrass was alerted by a second officer of Echevarria’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.
The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide as the result of “neglect and denial of medical care.” The autopsy reveled that the chemicals had stripped the linings from Echevarria’s tongue and throat.
City officials said it would have been difficult to convict Pendergrass of murder charges.
"We just didn't have sufficient evidence to move forward,” 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 public’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. “The FBI is the lead federal agency to investigate such abuses of power and it remains one of our top priorities.”
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.