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New York jail captain who walked away as inmate hanged himself is sent to the slammer

NY: NYC Closing Manhattan Detention Complex

View of Manhattan Detention Complex known as The Tombs to be closed on White street in New York on October 10, 2020. (Photo by Lev Radin/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

A New York City jail captain who walked away after an inmate hanged himself to death with a makeshift noose will spend six months on the other side of the bars, a judge ruled on Friday.

Capt. Rebecca Hillman, 40, acted as a supervisor in the Manhattan Detention Complex, better known as The Tombs. Civil rights scandals led to the facility’s scheduled closing in November 2020.

That same month, an inmate named Ryan Wilson had been arguing with another incarcerated person, and authorities planned to move him to another cell for his safety. Wilson made a noose out of a bed sheet and attached it to the light fixture inside his cell. Prosecutors say that Wilson then called an officer over, climbed up on a stool and threatened to hang himself if Hillman wouldn’t let him out of his cell. The officer unsuccessfully tried to calm down Wilson, and Hillman filled out paperwork in the control room after that officer told her she was immediately needed.

Prosecutors charged Hillman after Wilson’s death, and she was convicted of negligent homicide in March.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg expressed hope that the sentence would provide a resolution for Wilson’s family.

“Rebecca Hillman’s negligence and shocking lack of regard for Ryan Wilson’s well-being led to his death,” Bragg said. “I hope this sentencing can help close what I know has been an incredibly traumatic time for Mr. Wilson’s family and loved ones.”

After Hillman’s conviction, her attorney Todd Spodek noted that the jury returned a mixed verdict clearing his client of intentional wrongdoing.

“Ms. Hillman regrets any role that she played in the unfortunate passing of Mr. Wilson and sends deep sympathy to his loved ones,” Spodek told Law&Crime in March. “We are pleased that the jury found her not guilty with respect to the intentional crime. We maintain the position that a number of events within the Department of Corrections led to Mr. Wilson’s suicide. At this juncture, we are exploring all options.”

Spodek previously represented fraudster and “fake heiress” Anna Sorokin, who went by the name Anna Delvey.

In coverage of Hillman’s conviction, The New York Times reported that jurors spent hours watching footage of Hillman looking inside Wilson’s cell and walking away as he hanged for 15 minutes.

Hillman reportedly argued at trial that she didn’t believe Wilson was serious, and prosecutors say that she told a corrections officer who had a tool that could have cut Wilson’s noose not to enter, believing that he was fine and was “playing around.”

“She then casually looked inside and said that Mr. Wilson was faking it because he was still breathing,” the DA’s press release states. “At this point, Hillman ordered that the cell door be closed, leaving Mr. Wilson hanging alone inside the locked cell. She left the area to do her usual work, including completing entries in a log book and walking around the unit.”

Some 15 minutes later, prosecutors say, Hillman gave the order to open Wilson’s cell again and called for the medical team. Wilson died by the time that team arrived, and the New York City Department of Investigation (DOI) launched a probe.

DOI Commissioner Jocelyn E. Strauber said that Wilson “might still be alive today had Rebecca Hillman taken the urgent, appropriate action.”

“Instead she chose to do nothing,” Strauber said in a statement. “Her dereliction of duty had tragic consequences, and I hope today’s sentence provides some measure of justice for Wilson’s family.”

The DA describes the case as the first time a correction officer has been convicted of and sentenced for criminally negligent homicide.

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."