Samuel Harrell, a 30-year-old black inmate at the Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon New York, died last April 21 after more than a dozen witnesses saw him being handcuffed and severely beaten by a group of about 20 corrections officers. Now, the office of the United States attorney in Manhattan is working with the Dutchess County district attorney’s office on the brutal circumstances surrounding his death.
According to a report by the New York Times, a total of 19 other prisoners witnessed the attack on Harrell unfold. Based on their accounts, Harrell had gotten into a confrontation with several corrections officers after “packed his bags and announced he was going home, though he still had several years left to serve on his drug sentence.” Eyewitness reports note that the confrontation quickly became violent, escalating to Harrell—who is known to have a history of erratic behavior commonly linked to bipolar disorder—being “repeatedly kicked and punched”.
The New York Times reports eyewitness accounts, saying that the victim had endured racial slurs as he was being assaulted by his attackers. Harrell was then thrown “thrown or dragged down a staircase”. According to one of the inmates, Harrell ended up on the landing, “bent in an impossible position”. Witnesses also point out that many of the officers that had attacked Harrell were members of a group known around the facility as the ‘Beat Up Squad’.
While corrections officer called for emergency assistance, Harrell’s medical records show that the ambulance crew were told that he had suffered from an overdose of a synthetic marijuana substance. Still, as the New York Times was able to uncover, an autopsy report from the Orange County medical examiner found that Harrell had died of cardiac arrhythmia and had suffered several cuts and bruises to his head and extremities. The autopsy had only traces of tobacco and antidepressant in Harrell’s system and ruled the manner of his death as homicide.
It was these accounts that led U.S. attorney for the Southern District Preet Bharara to begin “coordinating and working” with the district attorney of Dutchess County in investigating Harrell’s death. Similarly, Dutchess County’s William V. Grady was originally quoted by the New York Times saying that “[the] very nature of this case calls for a full, fair and objective investigation into not only potential criminal law violations, but constitutional violations as well”.
The Huffington Posts reports that Harrell’s death has launched protests in upstate New York as part of the growing Black Lives Matter movement all over America. The movement calls attention to the overwhelming number of police brutality cases against African American individuals. It began after the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. It then gained significant traction after the high-profile deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner in 2014.