New York jail guard pleads guilty to cover-up in inmate's death

September 20, 2016 11:38 AM EDT

A car exits the Rikers Island Correctional facility in New York March 12, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

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By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A guard at New York City's Rikers Island jail complex pleaded guilty on Tuesday to charges that he tried to cover up an assault by a fellow officer that led to an inmate's death in 2012.

Byron Taylor, 32, entered his plea in federal court in Manhattan to charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice and perjury, one month before he and the other guard, Brian Coll, were to face trial over the death of Ronald Spear.

Taylor apologized in court for obstructing the investigation into the 52-year-old man's death. "Today is me accepting responsibility for my wrongdoing," he said.

As part of a plea deal, Taylor agreed not to appeal any prison term of 21 months or less when he is sentenced on Dec. 20.

Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte said Taylor would be fired.

The case is one of a number of recent prosecutions targeting Rikers employees as authorities seek to stem violence and corruption that have long plagued New York City's main jail complex.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has sought to implement reforms to help rectify problems at Rikers Island, one of the country's largest jail facilities with about 10,000 inmates.

Prosecutors said that on Dec. 19, 2012, an altercation took place between Coll and Spear, who had kidney problems, after the guard told Spear that a doctor he had sought to see was not available.

Prosecutors said Coll punched Spear several times in the face and stomach and repeatedly kicked him in the head while he was on the ground and restrained by two other officers, Taylor and Anthony Torres.

Spear was pronounced dead soon after, prosecutors said.

They said that Coll, Taylor and Torres sought to cover up the cause of Spear's death by filing false reports and by lying to investigators and, in Taylor's case, a federal grand jury,

Torres is cooperating with authorities after pleading guilty to a charge of conspiracy to obstruct justice and file false reports.

Coll, 47, has pleaded not guilty to charges including one count of death resulting from deprivation of rights under color of law, which carries a potential life sentence. His trial was scheduled for Oct. 18.

In 2014, New York City agreed to a $2.75 million settlement with Spear's family.

Zoe Salzman, the lawyer for Spear's family, said on Tuesday that the family hoped the criminal case "will stop correction officers from assaulting and killing other incarcerated people."

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Alan Crosby and Leslie Adler)

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