A New York City prison guard is now facing charges after allegedly watching an inmate hang himself and then issuing orders preventing staff from saving him, insisting that he was fine and just “playing,” prosecutors say.
Rebecca Hillman, 38, has been charged with felony counts, including criminally negligent homicide, following the death of inmate Ryan Wilson at the Manhattan Detention Complex on Nov. 22, 2020, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
“As alleged in the indictment, the death of Ryan Wilson wasn’t just a tragedy – it was a crime,” Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr., said in a statement. “Our investigation shows that Capt. Hillman ordered her subordinates not to take potentially life-saving measures to help Mr. Wilson, and failed to call for medical assistance expediently.”
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“This callous disregard for Mr. Wilson’s safety resulted in an irreversible loss to his family and friends, and must be held criminally accountable,” Vance added.
The District Attorney’s Office, citing court documents and statements made on the record, says Hillman had assigned Wilson to be moved to another housing unit following an argument with a fellow inmate.
While inside his cell and awaiting the move, Wilson then created a noose from a bedsheet and attached it to a light fixture, prosecutors say.
“After calling an officer over, Mr. Wilson climbed on a stool, put the noose around his neck, and threatened to hang himself if Hillman would not come and let him out of his cell,” the District Attorney’s Office said.
The officer then reportedly attempted to calm Wilson down and called Hillman to let her know that her presence was needed immediately.
“Instead, Hillman went into the control room, where she began filling out paperwork. After waiting for approximately 10 minutes, Mr. Wilson moved onto his bed, his neck in a noose, began a countdown, and jumped off the bed,” the District Attorney’s Office said. “The officer, who was outside the cell talking to Mr. Wilson, called for the cell to be opened immediately so he could cut him down.”
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“A few moments later, Hillman emerged from the control room, while the cell door remained shut, and told the other inmates that Mr. Wilson was fine and was ‘playing,’” the statement continued.
Prosecutors say Hillman then ordered for the cell to be opened, but a minute later told the officer “not to enter and said that Mr. Wilson was faking it because he was still breathing.”
“At this point, Hillman called for non-emergency backup and ordered the door closed while Mr. Wilson remained hanging inside of the locked cell,” the statement said. “Hillman then left the area to go on her usual rounds.”
About 15 minutes after Wilson jumped off the bed, Hillman “finally gave the order to open the cell again and called for a medical team,” the District Attorney’s Office says. Officers reportedly cut Wilson down from the noose and felt a faint pulse while starting chest compressions.
But the inmate ultimately was pronounced dead a short time later and Hillman, the prosecutors added, “filed an official report that falsely stated Mr. Wilson had asked to be moved to another unit, that she had the cell door re-opened and had Mr. Wilson cut down ‘immediately’ after the cell door was closed.”
Hillman has since been suspended without pay, according to ABC News.
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Wilson, 29, was being held at the facility for a robbery charge and the charges that Hillman now faces are not eligible for monetary bail, the Associated Press reported. She pleaded not guilty at an arraignment hearing Monday, it added.
Hillman’s lawyer, Kenneth Montgomery, told the news agency that she is a “hardworking mother and employee who did her best in a very difficult job that is defined by trauma and tragedy” and that he “look[s] forward to defending the serious charges against her.”