On June 18, a disgraced Rikers commanding officer was sentenced to five years in prison for violating the Fourteenth Amendment right of a prisoner to receive attention for serious medical needs. Captain Terrence Pendergrass consciously allowed an inmate named Jason Echevarria to die after the patient poisoned himself.
“A man died here, a 25-year-old man, because of your indifference and your callousness,” the New York Times quotes Judge Ronnie Abrams of the Federal District Court in Manhattan as saying during the sentencing.
In August 2012, Echevarria, who was being held in a punitive segregation unit for mentally ill inmates, swallowed a packet of toxic detergent called a “soap ball.” He became seriously sick, gasping for breath and vomiting and begging for help. When corrections officers reported Echeverria’s situation to Captain Pendergrass, he told one of them “don’t bother me unless someone is dead.”
A few hours later, Jason Echevarria was dead, the chemicals having burned through his mouth, esophagus, and stomach.
Terrence Pendergrass, whose name coincidentally resembles that of late R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass, was convicted of the civil rights violation in December. Pendergrass faced a maximum sentence of 10 years.
“He should’ve gone to jail for 10 years, not five years,” said Ramon Echevarria, the deceased’s father. “I hope he has a hard time in jail.”
Hopefully, now that Rikers’ daily population is shrinking, some degree of reform is in sight. Mayor de Blasio has allocated $32 million to improve programs for mentally ill inmates, who make up 40 percent of Rikers’ population.