Officer Who Let Inmate Fatally Swallow Soap Gets 5-Year Sentence

Sumner Park Contributor
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A Rikers Island corrections officer, who refused to seek medical help for an inmate swallowed a toxic soap ball, was sentenced to five years in prison Thursday.

Ex-jail supervisor Terrence Pendergrass, and his attorney James Frankie, requested a sentence in the range of 21 to 27 months. However, Manhattan Federal Court Judge Ronnie Abrams noted that Pendergrass showed little remorse or compassion and sentenced him to five years and fined him $5,000, according to The New York Times.

The sentence decision also comes as the city faces legal trouble. In response to the incident, the federal government filed a lawsuit to reduce guard violence at the jail complex. The prosecutors wanted Pendergrass to suffer “substantial” jail time, in order to send a message to the jail staff. (RELATED: Prison Guards Charged With Assaulting Inmate And Covering It Up)

“A man died here. A 25-year-old man, because of your indifference and callousness,” Abrams told Pendergrass. “He needlessly suffered for hours as his insides literally burned.”

Although Pendergrass, 51, was convicted in December 2014 for violating the civil rights of Jason Echevarria, who was mentally ill, he refused to accept the responsibility for the death.

With claims to “inaccurate information,” Pendergrass said that he “didn’t know” Echevarria ingested the soap ball. Had he known, he “could have been a superstar” and saved the inmate’s life, the guard stated.

The judge acknowledged the information barriers between the inmates and the correction officers, but told Pendergrass that the least he could have done was to let Echevarria see a doctor.

“You, as a supervisor, had a duty to take prompt action,” Abrams said.

Pendergrass privately apologized to Echevarria’s family, but that wasn’t enough.

“To this day he never showed remorse,” the victim’s 27-year-old brother, Bobby Echevarria, said after Pendergrass privately apologized to the family. “He never took responsibility for his actions, whether he was malicious or not.”

Echevarria’s father said that he deserved 10 years instead of five.

“Mr. Pendergrass didn’t do nothing for my son,” Mr. Echevarria said in a statement to the judge. “He knew he was dying in the cell.”

The inmate suffered from bipolar disorder and had been held in a solitary confinement cell for mentally ill patients, as a result of suicide attempts.

In the trial, two Riker officers and a pharmacist testified that Mr. Pendergrass knowingly dismissed Echevarria’s critical state, which escalated to vomiting and severe pain before he died the next morning.

An autopsy later revealed that the chemicals in the detergent had burned through the tissue in his digestive tract.