Lawyer for New York jail captain accused of letting detainee hang himself tells jury to blame Department of Correction for “dysfunction” instead
A lawyer for a Manhattan jail captain accused of failing to act as a mentally ill detainee hanged himself has asked a jury to blame the city’s “dysfunctional” Department of Corrections.
Representing Captain Rebecca Hillman at her trial in Manhattan Supreme Court, attorney Todd Spodek in his briefing on Friday asked the jury to acquit his client, who he said was not “a homicidal maniac.”
Hillman is charged with criminally negligent homicide in the November 2020 suicide of Ryan Wilson, and prosecutors allege that she prohibited her subordinates from intervening before he hanged himself at the now-closed Manhattan Detention Complex, known as “The Las graves”.
Wilson is also accused of lying on official paperwork about how soon she took action.
“Should I have been more diligent? Absolutely. Should every correctional officer have been more diligent? Absolutely. Should the Department of Correction have been more diligent? Absolutely,” Spodek said in his closing remarks.
“The Department of Correction is dysfunctional at best, at best,” Spodek added.
“Do you think she just went to work that day and didn’t take human life into account?” Spodek said later. “That’s not how life works.”
Jurors have seen footage from inside the lower Manhattan jail facility showing Hillman peering into Wilson’s cell as he hung and refusing to let a frantic guard cut him off.
The jail captain then toured the floor, chatting with the inmates before returning to the cell after about 15 minutes, when he ordered medical attention for Wilson.
When the doctors arrived, he was dead.
Hillman’s lawyer argued that she did not believe Wilson was serious when she tied a noose around his neck that was attached to a lamp in his cell. Spodek said Hillman thought “that she was a ruse, that she was joking” because she had experience with inmates attempting suicide.
In the prosecution’s closing argument, Assistant District Attorney Dafna Yoran showed disturbing footage of Wilson hanging with a white sheet around his neck and arms at his sides.
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Yoran argued that department rules required jail staff to immediately cut Wilson down. She said Hillman had a duty to exercise extreme caution.
“Isn’t the risk obvious that if left in that position for 15 minutes, this individual simply won’t survive? We are talking about risk, not certainty,” Yoran said. “If you were to come across this scene walking in the park today, wouldn’t you think that there is a substantial risk that this person might not survive?
“Would it be reasonable to keep looking at it?” the prosecutor continued.
Wilson, 29, had long suffered from bipolar disorder, according to medical records. During the trial, prosecutors said she had caused no trouble for prison staff and she spent hours perfecting her hobby of creating red paper roses using tissue paper and Kool Aid.
Wilson had been in Tombs for a month after his arrest on third-degree robbery charges. His bail was set at $1, but he was held on probation for being re-arrested while he had a misdemeanor case pending. He was released from prison the previous summer after serving seven years for attempted robbery.
The city DOC suspended Hillman after her arrest in April 2021 and has placed her on modified duty until the case is resolved. She is stationed on Rikers Island, where she is prohibited from dealing with inmates.
If convicted, Hillman faces up to four years in prison.