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Insufficient Evidence To Pursue Charges In Fishkill Inmate's Death

Fishkill Correctional Facility
Fishkill Correctional Facility Photo Credit: File

Following an extensive investigation into the death of Samuel Harrell, an inmate at the Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has closed the case, citing insufficient evidence and inconsistent witness statements.

The 30-year-old Harrel died on April 21, 2015 following an altercation with correctional officers. On Wednesday, Joon Kim, the acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced that the investigation determined that there is insufficient evidence to “meet the high burden of proof required for a federal criminal civil rights prosecution.”

According to Kim, on the night of his death, Harrell - who had not yet completed the term of his incarceration - packed up his personal belongings and told corrections officers that he was leaving the facility. After a mental health unit was called, Harrell ran from the housing unit and attempted to exit the facility.

Kim said that he ran head-first into a locked exit door before a group of corrections officers used physical force to apprehend and handcuff the 240 pound man.

There was no video evidence of the altercation and Kim said that eyewitness accounts were inconsistent. He was transported to a medical unit “with a faint pulse,” which soon faded. He was transported to St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital in Orange County, where he was pronounced dead.

An autopsy report conducted by the Orange County Medical Examiner determined that the cause of death was “cardiac arrhythmia due to hypertensive cardiovascular disease following physical altercation with corrections officers.” He also had an enlarged heart. No bone fractures or other serious injuries were found.

Kim noted that “although there was a physical altercation with corrections officers, the theory of such a homicide prosecution would require that death occurred as a result of an intentional, a reckless act, or a criminally negligent act,” and the autopsy found no such connection.

“To prove a violation of the federal criminal civil rights statute, prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a law enforcement officer willfully deprived an individual of a constitutional right, meaning that the officer acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. Neither accident, mistake, fear, negligence nor bad judgment is sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation.”

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