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$3,802,000 Settlement, Rikers' Guard Conviction in Prisoner Death

On December 17, 2014, former Rikers Island Guard Captain Terrence Pendergrass, 52, was sentenced to five years in a federal prison for violating the civil rights of deceased prisoner Jason Echevarria, 25. Echevarria’s estate received a $3,802,000 settlement from the City of New York and two jail guards.

Echevarria was mentally ill and imprisoned in the Mental Health Assessment Unit of New York City’s Rikers Island jail when he swallowed a “soap ball” consisting of a combination of a powerful caustic disinfectant and detergent. As the chemicals began to burn, he frantically called for help.

On two different occasions, Echevarria allegedly spoke with guards Raymond Castro and Angel Lazarte, telling them about the “soap ball” and reporting impaired breathing, vomiting and severe pain. They passed along to Pendergrass that information and a recommendation from a pharmacy technician that medical care be summoned.

He initially sent them away, saying he was not to be bothered unless a prisoner was dead or needed to be extracted from a cell. Later, he personally viewed Echevarria in his cell. However, the viewing did not help Echevarria as Pendergrass said he could not see anything medically wrong with him, refused to summon medical assistance and ordered a guard who was on the phone calling for help to hang up.

Eschevarria’s body was discovered in his cell the next morning. An autopsy revealed the chemicals had burned through his mouth, throat and stomach. Although the state refused to press criminal charges against Pendergrass, federal prosecutors charged him with violating Echevarria’s Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. This resulted in his conviction and five-year federal prison sentence. [See: PLN, July 2015, p.1].

Meanwhile, Echevarria’s estate had filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and jail employees alleging Pendergrass, Castro, Lazarte and other jail employees had violated Echevarria’s 14th Amendment rights. On November 11, 2015, the city, Castro and jail guard Deon Brown settled the suit with the city paying $3.8 million and Castro and Brown paying $2,000. Lazatre and Pendergrass, who represented himself, did not contribute to the settlement.

The estate was represented by New York City attorneys Joshua D. Kelner and Robert S. Kelner.

See: Echevarria v. City of New York, U.S.D.C.-S.D.N.Y., Case No. 13-cv-492.

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Related legal case

Echevarria v. City of New York