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Former Rikers Island Correction Captain Accused Of Ignoring Dying Inmate

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A former Rikers Island correction captain has been arrested for deliberately ignoring the urgent medical needs of an inmate who later died, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced Monday.

Terrence Pendergrass, 49, is charged with violating the prisoner's civil rights.

On Aug. 18, 2012, inmate Jason Echevarria, who was in a mental health unit, swallowed a powerful disinfectant commonly referred to as a "soap ball" which he was given by a new correction officer after a sewage backup in his cell, officials said.

Former Rikers Island Correction Captain Accused Of Ignoring Dying Inmate

After he swallowed the disinfectant, other inmates heard Echevarria banging on his cell door and calling for help, officials said.

Two corrections officers informed Pendergrass of the medical emergency, but according to the charges, the captain ignored them, saying that he wouldn't respond unless the problem involved a dead body in a cell, WCBS 880's Irene Cornell reported.

Echevarria was found dead in his cell the next morning. An autopsy revealed he "died as a result of injuries caused by the ingestion of a caustic substance, consistent with the ingestion of a soap ball."

"Jason Echevarria should not have died," Bharara stated. "As alleged, Terrence Pendergrass abused his power as a Rikers Island captain in charge of a vulnerable population of inmates with mental health issues by denying Echevarria access to medical care despite his obvious and urgent medical need for it. The Constitution protects the civil rights of everyone, including prison inmates at Rikers. The kind of conduct alleged today cannot be tolerated in our criminal justice system."

If convicted, Pendergrass faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

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