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We realize that Correction Captains' Association President Patrick Ferraiuolo is doing his institutional duty in trying to defend Capt. Rebecca Hillman by blaming a Correction Officer trying to prevent an inmate from committing suicide for obeying her order not to enter the man's cell to thwart the attempt.
Ms. Hillman is facing charges of criminally negligent homicide and lying about her handling of the incident that ended with Ryan Wilson's hanging himself. Under the circumstances, Mr. Ferraiuolo probably figured it was better to suggest that her judgment was so poor that the subordinate officer should have known enough to disregard her order than have her take all the weight for Mr. Wilson's death.
But it's rare in any paramilitary organization that subordinates defy such orders. That's particularly true when they aren't being directed to affirmatively act to end someone's life.
Perhaps some of the fault lies with Ms. Hillman's superiors in the Correction Department. Fifteen months before the suicide last November, she was charged with failing to intervene and prevent a use-of-force incident and was given a plea deal under which her penalty was the loss of four vacation days. It's such a trivial penalty that it wouldn't figure to leave a lasting impression.
It's a big step from not acting to prevent an inmate from being subjected to unnecessary force to ordering a subordinate not to take action to prevent a suicide. But both signify an indifference to the well-being of those detained in the jail system. It suggests that among the three responsibilities officers have concerning inmates—care, custody and control—Ms. Hillman forgot about the first one.
According to the charges against her, Mr. Wilson, following a confrontation with another inmate, had tied a bedsheet around his neck, stepped onto a stool, and told a Correction Officer he would hang himself if he wasn't let out of his cell. The CO tried to calm him and then called to Captain Hillman, saying her presence was needed.
Despite having earlier given an order to remove the inmate from that cell because of the confrontation, she ignored her subordinate's request and instead went to a control room to do some paperwork. Ten minutes later, Mr. Wilson jumped off a cell bed with his makeshift noose around his neck. When the officer, who had continued speaking with him from outside the cell, called for its door to be opened, Captain Hillman refused to allow it, allegedly saying that Mr. Wilson was "playing."
Even when she finally gave a signal for the door to be opened, she commanded the officer not to enter the cell, allegedly saying that Mr. Wilson, because he was still breathing, was just acting out.
If that allegation is accurate, that attitude uncomfortably echoes Derek Chauvin's response while he pressed his knee into George Floyd's neck to his victim's gasps that he couldn't breathe. She didn't cut off Mr. Wilson's air supply, but with every chance to intervene and prevent him from harming himself, she repeatedly just went about her business.
If the charges against her are true, she is not only a disgrace to the department but an embarrassment to every officer, regardless of rank, who tries to do a difficult, stressful job conscientiously. No officer behaving in such a jaded fashion has any business being paid to ensure that the basic duties of employment are carried out.