On the evening of April 21 in Building 21 at the Fishkill Correctional Facility, Samuel Harrell, an inmate with a history of erratic behavior linked to bipolar disorder, packed his bags and announced he was going home, though he still had several years left to serve on his drug sentence.Not long after, he got into a confrontation with corrections officers, was thrown to the floor and was handcuffed. As many as 20 officers — including members of a group known around the prison as the Beat Up Squad — repeatedly kicked and punched Mr. Harrell, who is black, with some of them shouting racial slurs, according to more than a dozen inmate witnesses. “Like he was a trampoline, they were jumping on him,” said Edwin Pearson, an inmate who watched from a nearby bathroom.Corrections officers called for an ambulance, but according to medical records, the officers mentioned nothing about a physical encounter. Rather, the records showed, they told the ambulance crew that Mr. Harrell probably had an overdose of K2, a synthetic marijuana.He was taken to St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital and at 10:19 p.m. was pronounced dead.In the four months since, state corrections officials have provided only the barest details about what happened at Fishkill, a medium-security prison in Beacon, N.Y., about 60 miles north of New York City. Citing a continuing investigation by the State Police, officials for weeks had declined to comment on the inmates’ accounts of a beating.An autopsy report by the Orange County medical examiner, obtained by The New York Times, concluded that Mr. Harrell, 30, had cuts and bruises to the head and extremities and had no illicit drugs in his system, only an antidepressant and tobacco. He died of cardiac arrhythmia, the autopsy report said, “following physical altercation with corrections officers.”The manner of death: Homicide.
No officers have been disciplined in connection with the death, officials said. A classification of homicide is a medical term that indicates the death occurred at the hands of other people, but it does not necessarily mean a crime was committed.
Most of the inmates could identify the officers by last names only, which they spelled in a variety of ways in their affidavits. In a database of New York State employees, SeeThroughNY.net, there are several Fishkill officers who appeared to match the guards most often named by the inmates as being directly involved in the encounter. They are Thomas Dickenson (named by 10 of the inmates), John Yager (10), Officer Michels (nine), Bryan Eull (five) and a white woman they knew only as “Ms. B” (four).They also identified the ranking officer at the scene as Sgt. Joseph Guarino. Reached by telephone, Sergeant Guarino confirmed he was present that night but said he could not comment.Neither the corrections department nor the union would confirm the names of the officers. Reached by phone, several of the officers declined to comment. Others did not respond to voice mail messages, emails or messages sent through Facebook.Through the years, Sergeant Guarino, 60, has been sued several times by inmates accusing him of brutality. One case was settled by the state in 2012 for $60,000 and another in 2011 for $65,000. In a 2011 deposition, he said inmates typically filed about 30 grievances against him a year and referred to him by the nickname Sergeant Searchalot.
Night had fallen at the Clinton Correctional Facility in far northern New York when the prison guards came for Patrick Alexander. They handcuffed him and took him into a broom closet for questioning. Then, Mr. Alexander said in an interview last week, the beatings began.As the three guards, who wore no name badges, punched him and slammed his head against the wall, he said they shouted questions: “Where are they going? What did you hear? How much are they paying you to keep your mouth shut?” One of the guards put a plastic bag over his head, Mr. Alexander said, and threatened to waterboard him.Hours earlier, Richard W. Matt and David Sweat had made their daring escape from the unit — called the “honor block” — where they were housed. Now it appeared that Mr. Alexander, a fellow convicted murderer who lived in an adjoining cell, was being made to suffer the consequences.For days after the June prison break, corrections officers carried out what seemed like a campaign of retribution against dozens of Clinton inmates, particularly those on the honor block, an investigation by The New York Times found. In letters reviewed by The Times, as well as prison interviews, inmates described a strikingly similar catalog of abuses, including being beaten while handcuffed, choked and slammed against cell bars and walls.
James Miller, a spokesman for the corrections officers’ union, the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, said in an email last month that Mr. Harrell was “acting violently and appeared delusional as a result of apparently ingesting drugs.” While trying to subdue him, one guard had several ribs broken, Mr. Miller said.Officials have described abuse of K2 by inmates as a problem throughout the state prison system.On Monday, Mr. Miller wrote in an email that the union was “reviewing all the facts before rushing to judgment.”“Rather than simply relying on allegations made by a handful of violent convicted felons,” he wrote, “we will continue to work with our partners in law enforcement to ensure a resolution to this tragic incident.”
Mr. Harrell was then thrown or dragged down a staircase, according to the inmates’ accounts. One inmate reported seeing him lying on the landing, “bent in an impossible position.”“His eyes were open,” the inmate wrote, “but they weren’t looking at anything.”