Sam Harrell, a 32-year old black man suffering from bipolar disorder, was serving an 8-year sentence on a drug charge. Four days after completing two weeks in solitary confinement and not receiving his proper medication, Harrell mistakenly believed his family was coming to pick him up and he prepared to leave. On April 21, 2015, in Building 21 of the Fishkill Correction Facility, a medium security in Beacon, NY, as many as 20 corrections officers known around the prison as The Beat Up Squad handcuffed him, beat him, repeatedly kicking and punching him shouted racial slurs at him, and threw him down a flight of stairs,according to over a dozen inmate witnesses. No disciplinary action has been taken against the Correction Officers involved, and no changes have been made in the prison, according to New York Times article, “Prison Guard ‘Beat Up Squad’ Is Blamed in New York Inmate’s Death,” New York Times, 8/18/2015
A few weeks after Samuel Harrell’s death was reported by The New York Times, the superintendent at Fishkill, William Connolly, abruptly resigned. Both the Dutchess County District Attorney’s Office and the U.S. District Attorney’s Office have launched investigations into the case. But more than a year later, no one has been charged in Samuel Harrell’s death, and the correction officers involved in the assault are still working at the prison.
Family members and friends of Samuel Harrell launched a 5-Day Hunger Vigil and Rallies to Mark Year Anniversary of Samuel Harrell Murder, April 21st – 25th in Beacon New York and in New York City.
“Me and my family decided—and some friends, decided to do a hunger strike,” Cerissa Harrell, sister of Sam shared with Democracy Now. “The reason for the hunger strike is to give up—we’re willing to not eat, to give—you know, to get something in return. And what we want in return is justice. … It’s been a year. Nothing has happened. Does it hurt? It hurts a lot. Do I think about it? Every day. Do I forget about him? Never. … Justice will mean so much to me right now. Those COs are still working, just living their lives just like it’s just nothing, like they did nothing, like they didn’t take somebody else’s life or a part of somebody’s family and just threw it away.”
“Speaking about my youngest son, little Sam, whom I named after me,” Sam Harrell Sr, shares with Democracy Now, “I miss him very much, you know, to the point that it’s very painful just to imagine the last seconds of his life, as he was trying to hold on and to do his time and serve it out and to come home. We had plans. You know, we had things that we wanted to still accomplish together. But like what happened to him was—is really a tragic ending. And it’s really hard to really visualize or really to think about it at times as, you know, life goes on without him being here. But as we—you know, as we go on day by day now, there is still a struggle for the innocence, struggle to have a reform, a reprove, and things that we would like to see happen within the system so that something like this will never happen again to another family.”
Black Westchester says the name Sam Harrell today, to help his family keep the name alive in their quest for justice, so his story does not get lost in the news cycle and become just another story of a black man killed at hands of law enforcement where no one pays and becomes yesterday news.