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Dept. of Correction captain guilty in ‘Tombs’ detainee’s death, sentenced to six months in jail

BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg on Friday announced the jail sentence of a former Department of Correction captain for issuing orders that prevented officers from saving the life of a person in custody at the Manhattan Detention Complex a.k.a. “The Tombs.”

The D.O.C. captain, Rebecca Hillman, 40, who lives in Brooklyn, was sentenced to six months in jail in connection with the death of Ryan Wilson in November 2020.

On March 14, a New York State Supreme Court jury found Hillman guilty of one felony count of criminally negligent homicide — marking the first time a New York City Correction officer has ever been convicted of and sentenced for such an offense.

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

As stated at trial, Hillman was assigned to the unit where Wilson was housed. On the afternoon of Nov. 22, 2020, Hillman was planning to have Wilson moved to another housing unit after an argument with another incarcerated person. Wilson, who remained locked in his cell pending the move, made a noose out of a bedsheet and attached it to a light fixture. After calling an officer over, Wilson climbed on a stool, put the noose around his neck, and threatened to hang himself if Captain Hillman would not come and let him out of his cell.

The officer attempted to calm Wilson and called Hillman to tell her she was needed immediately in the housing unit. Instead, Hillman went into “the control room,” where she began filling out paperwork. After waiting around 10 minutes, Wilson moved onto his bed, his neck in the noose, began a countdown and jumped off the bed. The officer, who saw Wilson jump, called for the cell to be opened immediately so he could cut him down.

Hillman left the control room and came up to the cell, which was opened. She ordered the same officer who had been standing at the door — and who was holding a tool to cut Wilson’s noose — not to enter and cut the man down, saying that he was fine and was “playing around.” According to the prosecution, she then “casually looked inside and said that Mr. Wilson was faking it because he was still breathing.” Hillman then ordered that the cell door be closed, leaving Wilson hanging alone inside the locked cell. She left the area to do her usual work, including completing entries in a logbook and walking around the unit.

About 15 minutes after Wilson jumped, Hillman finally gave the order to open the cell again and called for a medical team. Officers cut Wilson down, felt a faint pulse and began chest compressions. When medical personnel arrived a few minutes later, Wilson was already dead. The New York City Department of Investigation launched an investigation per its policy to investigate all deaths in correctional facilities.

D.O.I. Commissioner Jocelyn E. Strauber said the D.O.C. captain simply did not do the job that she was supposed to do, with tragic results.

“Ryan Wilson might still be alive today had Rebecca Hillman taken the urgent, appropriate action required of a Department of Correction captain whose job was to protect him, and all persons in custody,” Strauber said. “Instead she chose to do nothing. Her dereliction of duty had tragic consequences, and I hope today’s sentence provides some measure of justice for Wilson’s family.”

A D.A. press release announcing the sentencing did not state Ryan’s age, what he had been charged with or how long he had been detained at M.D.C. The D.A.’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for that information.

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