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New York City settles inmate death lawsuit for $2.75 million

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City has agreed to pay $2.75 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of a jail inmate who claimed guards beat him to death.

A spokesman for the city's Law Department on Monday confirmed the settlement with the estate of Ronald Spear, 52, who died in December 2012 at the city's Rikers Island jail.

In a federal lawsuit filed last year in Manhattan, Spear's father claimed his son was assaulted for complaining that his medical care at the jail was inadequate.

The settlement was first reported by the New York Times and followed a string of problems at Rikers. A broad investigation into violence and other criminal conduct has led to the arrest of more than a dozen officers in recent months.

In March, an officer was charged with depriving a mentally ill inmate of medical aid after the inmate swallowed a corrosive disinfectant. The inmate eventually died.

Another inmate who suffered from schizophrenia died in an overheated cell earlier this year. His family has filed a $25 million lawsuit against the city.

Spear, who was arrested for burglary in September 2012, suffered from chronic kidney disease and required a cane, according to the lawsuit.

In late 2012, he filed a lawsuit against the city's Department of Corrections, claiming he had been denied medical care and that officers were "retaliating" against him for his complaints. He died two weeks later.

His family's separate lawsuit claimed three officers held him down and kicked him multiple times in the head while inmates looked on. The New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner ruled the death a homicide, citing "blunt force trauma to the head" as a contributing factor, according to the lawsuit.

The proposed settlement was expected to be filed on Monday in federal court in Manhattan, where it will require a judge's approval. The city will not admit liability as part of the agreement.

"This was a tragic incident," Muriel Goode-Trufant, a lawyer for the city, said in a statement. "It is hoped that this resolution brings some small measure of closure for the family."

Lawyers for the family did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A spokesman for the city's Department of Corrections said in an email that one of the officers had been fired and others were facing disciplinary charges. He would not comment further.

The Bronx District Attorney's Office investigated the incident but concluded it could not prove criminal charges against the officers beyond a reasonable doubt, a spokeswoman said in an email.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Joseph Ponte as corrections commissioner in response to the problems at city jails. Ponte has instituted new security policies designed to prevent violence and ordered a review of training and safety protocols.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Susan Heavey and Eric Beech)

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