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Guards Won't Face Charges For Death Of Inmate Ronald Spears

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Ronald Spear | Courtesy Zoe Salzman

NEW YORK -- The family of a Riker's Island inmate who was allegedly beaten to death in an altercation with corrections officers is demanding justice after the district attorney's decision not to press charges in the case.

"The family is extremely disappointed," Zoe Salzman, a lawyer representing the family of Ronald Spear, told The Huffington Post. "This is a case that's worthy of criminal prosecution. This is a homicide, and there should be criminal charges."

Spear, a 52-year-old who had been arrested on burglary charges, died on Dec. 19, 2012, after a confrontation with corrections officers reportedly turned violent. Spear had previously complained that corrections officers and medical staff were withholding medical treatment for a kidney ailment, according to the New York Daily News.

On Thursday, the Daily News reported that Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson said he would not prosecute the corrections officers involved in the incident that preceded Spear's death, saying he felt he could not prove a case "beyond a reasonable doubt."

Salzman pointed to the coroner's report that deemed Spear's death a homicide caused in part by "blunt force trauma to the head," as well as "consistent" witness statements from inmates who said they saw the confrontation.

As The New York Times reported last year:

Two of the inmates -- Jesse James and Shawn Fraser -- said in statements that Mr. Spear often complained about his medical care. He had a disagreement with an officer about his treatment, they said, and after he asked to see a captain, the officer grabbed his arm and hit him several times, knocking him down.

The officer then repeatedly kicked him in the face and chest while two other officers restrained him, the inmates said.

The Times reported that Spear had filed a lawsuit against medical and nursing staff at the jail in the weeks before he died. In the suit, Spear claimed he had been denied medication by jail staff and that, because he got in touch with Legal Aid lawyers, "I have correction officers retaliating against me."

In a statement to the Daily News, Correction Officers Union President Norman Seabrook said, "Correction officers in this case did everything they were supposed to do."

Salzman said Spear's family has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, but whatever the outcome of that case, "from the family's perspective, that's not a substitute for criminal accountability," she said.

UPDATE: A spokesperson for the New York City Department of Corrections refused to go on record. But the department did suspend its own investigation while the district attorney was looking into the case. Now that the criminal case has concluded, the department has resumed its investigation. None of the guards involved in the altercation have been disciplined.

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