A fifth former correctional officer pleaded guilty this week to using unlawful force on an inmate and then conspiring to cover it up while working as an officer for the Tennessee Department of Correction.
Jonathan York, 33, faces up to 10 years in prison for the civil rights offense of using unlawful force and up to five years for the conspiracy offense.
“Correctional officers must abide by and adhere to the same laws they take an oath to uphold and enforce,” U.S. Attorney D. Michael Dunavant for the Western District of Tennessee said in a press release.
“Instead of serving and protecting the public, this officer used unlawful and excessive physical force to violate the civil rights of an individual by repeatedly punching and injuring him. As a result, he will now be held accountable, vividly illustrating that no one is above the law,” he added.
During the February 1 incident, York and other correctional officers entered the cell of an inmate identified in court documents as R.T., who was being held in the mental health unit at the Northwest County Correctional Complex in Tiptonville, Tennessee. With the guilty plea, York admitted to asking a fellow officer to cover the surveillance camera in the cell while he began punching R.T. in retaliation for “R.T. spitting earlier.”
“York punched R.T. in the neck, face, back, and chest. York admitted to punching R.T. around 30 times. York’s punches caused visible injury to R.T. and caused him to bleed,” said the statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Two other correctional officers then punched R.T. while York and a supervisory officer in the cell stood by and watched.
After the assault, York and his colleagues spoke with the supervisory officer about the incident and were told to claim that R.T.’s injuries were self-inflicted.
“When York spoke to other staff members immediately after the incident, he did not provide complete information about what happened inside R.T.’s cell. In the days after the assault, York spoke to a correctional officer who had also been in R.T.’s cell. They agreed to falsely claim that R.T. injured himself,” the statement added.
Former correctional officers Nathaniel Griffin, Tanner Penwell, Carl Spurlin, Jr., and Cadie McAlister previously entered guilty pleas for criminal offenses arising out of the assault of R.T.
“The Justice Department does not tolerate assault by correctional officers of the people they are charged with protecting,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “We work tirelessly to protect the civil rights of all citizens.”
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