On Thursday, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, announced that his office would be joining the Dutchess County district attorney’s investigation into the suspicious death of Samuel Harrell, a prisoner at Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon, N.Y., in April.
The New York Times broke the story of Harrell’s death last week: on the evening of April 21, the inmate got into a confrontation with corrections officers after packing his bags and declaring that he was going home. (Harrell reportedly had “a history of erratic behavior linked to bipolar disorder.”) The corrections officers allegedly threw Harrell to the ground, handcuffed him, and beat him:
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.
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.”
The autopsy report said Harrell died of a cardiac arrhythmia “following physical altercation with corrections officers,” according to the Times. The Orange County medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.
In a statement on Thursday, Bharara said that his office would be “coordinating and working” with Dutchess County district attorney William V. Grady’s office, who, in turn, the Times reports, said that he had been discussing “a joint investigation” with the U.S. attorney for several days.
“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,” Grady said in a news release.
The present investigation will determine whether criminal charges will be filed.