NYC jail captain found guilty of negligent homicide over inmate’s suicide
Rebecca Hillman faces up to four years in prison after a jury convicted her of denying help to an inmate who hanged himself in a cell
By Molly Crane-Newman
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — A city correction captain faces up to four years in prison after a Manhattan jury convicted her Tuesday of denying help to a detainee who hanged himself in a cell at the Tombs.
Jurors hearing the case within sight of the Tombs, a jail that serves the Manhattan state court complex, deliberated for six hours over two days before convicting Capt. Rebecca Hillman of responsibility in detainee Ryan Wilson’s hanging suicide on Nov. 22, 2020. Jurors found Hillman not guilty of lying on official paperwork.
Wilson’s sister, Elayna Manson, welcomed the outcome.
“I was so nervous,” Manson said. “At least I know that he didn’t die in vain, and there’s some sense of justice.”
Hillman will be fired from her $96,808 job, city Correction Commissioner Louis Molina said after the jury’s verdict was announced. “We remain committed to improving our jails with transparency and accountability, and will pursue termination immediately,” Molina said.
Hillman, who joined the Correction Department in 2013, was suspended after Wilson’s death and then placed on modified status. She’s been stationed since then on Rikers Island, according to public records.
Evidence showed Hillman stopped a subordinate from intervening when Wilson, who had well-documented struggles with bipolar disorder, threatened to hang himself.
Ten minutes after learning of the situation, she continued to prevent Correction Officer Oscar Rojo from entering Wilson’s cell as Wilson tied a noose around his neck, affixed it to a light fixture, and jumped off a stool.
Hillman ordered staff to open 29-year-old Wilson’s cell momentarily, ordering it shut again because she thought he was breathing. Another 15 minutes went by before she ordered medical attention. When medics arrived, Wilson was dead.
Hillman contended that based on her experiences with other detainees, she believed Wilson was pretending to attempt suicide. Her lawyer said the city’s dysfunctional jails were to blame, and Hillman might have lacked diligence but was not “a homicidal maniac.”
“Ms. Hillman regrets any role that she played in the unfortunate passing of Mr. Wilson,” defense lawyer Todd Spodek said after the verdict was read. “We are pleased that the jury found her not guilty of the sole intentional crime and at this juncture are exploring all options.”
Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg said Hillman failed to “provide for the safety of those under her watch,” and that people in jail “deserve to have their lives treated with dignity.”
City Department of Investigation Commissioner Jocelyn Strauber said the city would “vigorously pursue DOC employees of any rank” responsible for a death in custody.
Witnesses said Wilson spent hours perfecting his hobby of crafting roses out of tissue paper and dying them red with Kool-Aid.
Manson described her brother as sensitive.
“He was always trying to make people feel good, make them feel better. He was the jokester of the family,” she said.
Wilson’s mental health plummeted not long after he finished a seven-year stint at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, his sister said. His release’s timing with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic doomed his efforts to find work, and he ultimately wound up homeless and getting arrested again on low-level robbery charges.
“The summer before he went in there, he really was trying to change for the better. He was trying to get a job,” Manson said.
“He just kept calling me, ‘Sis, you’re gonna be so proud of me. I’m going to church. I’m going to interviews’ … But then nothing worked out for him. Nothing. It landed him back where he didn’t want to be.”
Wilson had been locked up for a month because of a $1 parole hold for getting rearrested with an open misdemeanor case.