A supervisor in a now-shuttered New York City jail who walked away after an inmate hanged himself to death with a makeshift noose has been convicted of negligent homicide, the district attorney’s office announced on Tuesday.
Capt. Rebecca Hillman, 40, acted as a supervisor in the Manhattan Detention Complex, better known as The Tombs.
On Nov. 22, 2020, the month of the aging jail’s scheduled closing, an inmate named Ryan Wilson had been arguing with another incarcerated person, and prosecutors say 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.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) says that Hillman showed “inexplicable negligence” in what happened next — and is now paying the price.
“Incarcerated individuals deserve to have their lives treated with dignity,” Bragg said in a statement. “I cannot imagine the pain that Mr. Wilson family and loved ones continue to feel, and I am deeply sorry for their loss.”
Hillman’s lawyer Todd Spodek, who previously represented fraudster and “fake heiress” Anna Sorokin a.k.a. Anna Delvey, expressed sympathy for the victim and gratitude for the 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. “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.”
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 quote her suggesting as much in their press release.
“She ordered the same officer who had been standing at the door – and who was holding a tool to cut the noose Wilson had fashioned – not to enter and cut Mr. Wilson down, saying that he was fine and was ‘playing around,'” the press release states. “She then casually looked inside and said that Mr. Wilson was faking it because he was still breathing. 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.
“Captain Hillman ignored her duty, and the plea of her subordinate officer, to provide immediate assistance to person in custody Ryan Wilson,” DOI Commissioner Jocelyn E. Strauber said in a statement. “Her callous inaction delayed emergency life-saving treatment for Wilson, who was dead by suicide by the time the medics arrived. Today’s conviction makes clear that we will vigorously pursue DOC employees of any rank who are responsible for the death of a person in custody in their care.”
One of the prosecutors currently investigating former President Donald Trump, Bragg ran on a criminal justice reform platform and vowed to do away with incarceration for all but the most serious offenses early in his tenure. In Hillman’s case, the DA has landed a conviction on a felony count that carries the possibility of four years of imprisonment.
Bragg hasn’t indicated what punishment he will seek for Hillman at her sentencing on April 3.
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