Feds Investigating 2007 Bellevue Jail Ward Death

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Back in June 2008, the Voice examined the controversial beating death of a mentally ill inmate in the jail ward at Bellevue Hospital Center. We reported exclusively that Patrick Miller was beaten severely by five correction officers in May 2007, and that beating probably led to his death by heart failure.

The Voice reported that Miller, known also as Jermele Kelly, suffered a mesenteric hemotoma -- an injury similar to what happens when someone is hit by a major league fastball. He was also struck on the sinoatrial node, the nerve in the heart that regulates the heartbeat. Such an injury could have stopped his heart, we reported.

Now, more than three years later, after the Manhattan District Attorney dropped its probe into Miller's death, the Justice Department and the FBI have opened a criminal investigation into the incident, several sources tell the Voice.

An FBI spokesman declined to comment. The city Department of Correction also declined to comment. We're waiting to hear from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan.

Miller, 31, of North Carolina, was something of a forgotten man wandering the margins of society. He had left home years earlier. He was scooped up off New York's streets and put into jail in December 2006 for alleged fare-beating at the Times Square station and alleged possession of a stolen credit card. He was transferred to the Bellevue jail ward on March 22, 2007, likely as a result of his prior history of mental illness.

Prior to the confrontation in May 2007, the Voice reported, a correction officer had berated Miller, telling him to "shut the fuck up." Soon after that, Miller lashed out at a guard, and the quintet of correction officers responded with force. They then dragged him into a holding pen where he was declared dead some time later.

The initial confrontation was recorded on tape, but no video exists of what happened when correction officers dragged Miller into the holding cell. Moreover, it remains unclear whether correction officers immediately notified nursing staff when Miller went into cardiac arrest or delayed that notification.

His body lingered unclaimed at the city morgue because no one could find his next of kin.

Patrick's mother, Billie Ann Miller, 52, who lives in Spartanburg, South Carolina, filed a lawsuit in 2008 in connection with her son's death. A former Suffolk County forensic examiner hired by her lawyers concluded her son's death was a homicide.

"I feel that justice should be done, because he didn't even have a chance to try to straighten his life up," she told the Voice at the time. "I feel he was like a kid in his mind."

Hospital sources say that in the period since Miller's death, more attention has been placed on the jail forensic ward. Nursing staff now has to escort patients along with correction officers. And the berating of inmates by correction officers is not as prevalent as it was, insiders say.

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