Guard Watched as Man Hanged Himself in Jail, Prosecutors Say

A correction supervisor who prosecutors say allowed a 29-year-old man to hang himself in a New York City jail last fall — and even stopped another guard who tried to intervene — was charged with criminally negligent homicide on Monday.

Prosecutors said that Captain Rebecca Hillman would not let another officer enter the cell of the man, Ryan Wilson, and cut him down when he hanged himself with a bedsheet at the Manhattan Detention complex in November.

Mr. Wilson had suffered from mental health issues for years but had never before attempted suicide, his lawyer said. He was charged with robbery in October 2020 and sent to the Manhattan Detention Complex, often called the Tombs.

In November, another correction officer watched as Mr. Wilson prepared to hang himself by fashioning a noose out of a bedsheet in his cell, court documents said. The officer asked Captain Hillman to grant him permission to enter Mr. Wilson’s cell in order to stop him.

She said no, prosecutors said, and allowed him to hang for about 14 minutes without intervening.

Ms. Hillman was also charged with filing a false instrument, related to the report that she filled out after the death, which said that Mr. Wilson had been found dead with the bedsheet around his neck. Captain Hillman turned herself in on Monday and pleaded not guilty at her arraignment on Monday afternoon in Manhattan.

“We keep hearing Black lives matter but keep seeing Black lives don’t matter,” Mr. Wilson’s lawyer, Benjamin Pinczewski, said in an interview. “Ryan Wilson’s life did not matter.”

Mr. Wilson’s death underscores pervasive problems in the city’s jail system, including efforts by some guards to cover up misconduct. The pandemic has also exacerbated shortcomings in the mental health system behind bars. Rates of self-harm have risen in the jails as fear of Covid-19 and the slow pace of the courts have contributed to an environment of near-constant anxiety, incarcerated people and their lawyers have said.

Captain Hillman and the other officer, who Mr. Pinczewski identified as Oscar Rojo, were both suspended shortly after Mr. Wilson’s death was reported in the fall.

Mr. Wilson had spent seven years in prison for an attempted robbery and was released last June. His sister, Elayna Manson, said he found solace at a church in Brooklyn but grew impatient when he was unable to find work.

Mr. Wilson ended up in a shelter, a move that Ms. Manson said exacerbated his mental heath issues. She said she tried to encourage her brother, assuring him his situation would improve and giving him money.

Mr. Wilson, who was on parole, was arrested on robbery charges in October, when he was trying to get money for food, his lawyer said. Being back behind bars caused Mr. Wilson to go into a steep depression, Mr. Pinczewski said, adding that the Department of Correction was aware of his mental health history and needs.

Neither Patrick Ferraiuolo, president of the Correction Captains’ Association, nor a lawyer for Captain Hillman responded to requests for comment. Captain Hillman could face up to four years in prison if found guilty.

A spokesman for the Department of Correction did not immediately respond to questions about the case.

Mr. Pinczewski said that on the afternoon of Nov. 22, Mr. Wilson was seen walking around his cell with a sheet tied in the form of a noose. He then proceeded to hang himself.

“Your job was to make sure everyone was safe — to protect the people,” said Ms. Manson. “I wish you would have done your job, and my brother would have still been here. What made her not intervene?”

After Mr. Wilson’s death, prosecutors said, Captain Hillman provided falsified official documents about what happened. A Times analysis of recently released data found that lying on officials records was common among correction officers who had been disciplined over a 20-month period, with more than half providing false or incomplete information.

Officer Rojo was not charged with a crime. He had attempted to help Mr. Wilson but was stopped by Captain Hillman, Mr. Pinczewski said.

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