There was an outpouring of support for the family of Samuel Harrell at a vigil in his honor. He died at the Fishkill prison six months ago, after a controversial incident with corrections officers. Family and friends gathered Wednesday to demand that those responsible be held accountable and to light candles in his memory. Time Warner Cable News' Briggette Sayegh has more.
It's been six months since Samuel Harrell died at Fishkill Correctional Facility, according to a lawsuit, having been beaten to death by a group of officers known as the beat-up squad. Those officers are still working, not having faced any disciplinary action as a result of these allegations.
On Wednesday, family, friends and local leaders held a vigil and marched peacefully toward the prison where the 30-year-old Harrell had been serving a five-year drug sentence.
"This is not going to continue happening," said Carissa Harrell, Samuel's sister. "This has to stop. It's sad that it had to take my brother's life for this to happen, but you gotta start somewhere, and I guess you gotta start with him."
Harrell’s family says he was suffering from bipolar disorder and, on the day of his death, hadn't been given his medication. His wife Diane described him as gentle.
"He was very caring," Diane Harrell said. "He loved children. He was just a family guy. He was harmless."
The lawsuit alleges that up to 20 officers stomped on and kicked Harrell while he was handcuffed to the ground, shouting racial slurs before throwing his lifeless body down the stairs. An autopsy conducted by the Orange County Medical Examiner concluded Harrell’s cause of death to be homicide.
The New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association (NYSCOBPA) has remained relatively silent on the matter, but public relations director Jimmy Miller says there are other factors to consider that may have contributed to Harrell’s death.
"The family did release the autopsy to some media outlets, and it did show a preexisting medical condition," Miller said. "Obviously this is an unfortunate incident. At this point, we really can't say too much more."
Activists are calling for an end to a brutality that they say has become pervasive in society.
"The guards do have dangerous jobs, and I respect them for doing their jobs," said Citizen Action of New York member Nataja Roberts, "but when they're not doing their jobs, when they're threatening, harming and murdering inmates, that's not doing their job."