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Prison guard watched inmate hang himself and stopped colleague from intervening, prosecutors say

Manhattan attorney says 38-year-old ‘must be held criminally accountable’ for death of Black man

A prison guard has been accused of watching a Black inmate hang himself at a New York prison, according to prosecutors.

Rebecca Hillman, a 38-year-old New York Department of Corrections captain, was also accused of stopping a colleague from intervening in the incident in Manhattan Criminal Court on Monday, The New York Times reported. 

The inmate, 29-year-old Ryan Wilson, allegedly threatened to hang himself from a lighting fixture with a tied-up bedsheet if Capt. Hillman refused to allow him to leave the cell on 20 November 2020. 

Capt. Hillman, who was supervising the section of the Manhattan Detention complex, walked off as Wilson hanged himself, according to prosecutors.

She told colleagues that Wilson, who reportedly suffered from mental illness but had never threatened to hang himself before, was “playing” and allegedly prevented them from intervening. 

Capt. Hillman then went inside the cell and said Wilson was faking the incident. The second corrections department officer was told to remain outside. 

According to prosecutors, Wilson was hanging for around 15 minutes before any emergency assistance arrived at the cell. Wilson was then pronounced dead. 

Capt. Hillman was charged with criminally negligent homicide, and for filing a fraudulent report of the incident. She remains in custody after pleading not guilty to the charges on Monday.

Manhattan District attorney Cy Vance said: “This callous disregard for Mr Wilson’s safety resulted in an irreversible loss to his family and friends, and must be held criminally accountable.”

A lawyer for Wilson, Benjamin Pinczewski, told the Times.: “We keep hearing Black lives matter but keep seeing Black lives don’t matter. Ryan Wilson’s life did not matter.”

A spokesperson for the New York City Department of Correction said Capt. Hillman has been suspended without pay and is currently subject to an internal investigation, according to ABC News.

As The Times reported, the case is similar to that of Nicholas Feliciano, who tried to hang himself in 2019 as Rikers Island, New York, prison staff allegedly watched for seven minutes. 

If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Helpline is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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Written by The Editor

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