A New York City Department of Corrections captain was indicted on April 26 on charges of criminally negligent homicide and filing false reports. Rebecca Hillman, 38, a captain at Manhattan’s notorious Manhattan Detention Complex, better known as The Tombs, allegedly believed inmate Ryan Wilson, 29, was faking his suicide attempt. She stopped another officer from intervening and cutting Wilson down after he hanged himself.
Hillman has pleaded not guilty. If found guilty, she faces up to four years in prison. She is ineligible for monetary bail, and is scheduled to next appear in court on July 28.
At the indictment, she was virtually unrecognizable in a hood, dark glasses, a mask, and baseball cap. During the grand jury proceedings, other corrections officers had testified against her.
Watched Prisoner Hang for 15 Minutes
Wilson, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, suffered from mental health problems for years. After spending seven years in prison for attempted robbery, Wilson had been released in June. Unable to find work, he ended up in a homeless shelter, where his mental condition further deteriorated. In October, he was arrested again on robbery charges when he tried to steal money for food, according to his attorney. Back in jail, he became deeply depressed, a situation known to corrections officers.
On November 22, 2020, Hillman allegedly watched Wilson hang for 15 minutes, refusing to act despite the pleas of inmates and officers. Wilson had tied a bedsheet to a light fixture, fastened a noose around his neck, and then jumped off a stool.
Requesting a Transfer
Wilson, who was involved in a fight with other inmates earlier that month, feared retaliation and requested a transfer to another unit. As the transfer request dragged on without resolution, Wilson became more depressed.
The night of his death, Wilson threatened to kill himself if he was not permitted out of his cell. Hillman ignored the threat, even as Wilson fashioned the bedsheet for hanging. Rather than respond to him, she entered a control room to fill out paperwork. Wilson began a countdown and then jumped. Although Hillman allegedly went to his cell after his jump, she pronounced him “fine” and said he was pretending.
When corrections officer Oscar Rojo tried to help Wilson, Hillman told him to leave the hanging man alone. After 15 minutes, she allowed officers to cut down Wilson, who barely had a pulse. A medical team was called in while officers started chest compressions.
While both Hillman and Rojo were suspended after Wilson’s death, Rojo was not charged with a crime.
After Wilson’s suicide, Hillman allegedly falsified records regarding the incident. She falsely stated in her official report that she had immediately told officers to cut Wilson down. The facility’s surveillance footage shows that she lied in the report.
For many New York City corrections officers, this appears to be standard operating procedure. About half of the 270 officers disciplined in a 20-month period in the New York City jail system filed inaccurate reports or lied to investigators. Hillman’s decision to falsify her report is just part of a pattern.