FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, July 3, 2017
Mississippi Corrections Officers Sentenced for Inmate Assault and Cover-Up
Mississippi correctional officer Robert Sturdivant, 48, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and one (1) year of supervised release for leading the cover-up after an inmate was severely beaten at the state’s Parchman Prison, the Justice Department announced today.
Three other officers have already been sentenced for the March 9, 2014, incident, in which an officer punched and kicked the victim while he lay nonresistant on the ground. The victim was temporarily blinded by the attack and suffered severe blood loss, a broken orbital bone, and permanent partial vision loss.
After the attack, Sturdivant, a supervisor, led the three other officers to create a cover story that falsely minimized and falsely justified the force used by officers. He pleaded guilty in February.
“Supervisory officers must be held accountable for permitting and encouraging the officers under their watch from committing violent acts,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler. “The Department of Justice is committed to enforcing the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution.”
Three other officers were sentenced on June 2 for their roles in the beating and the cover-up. Lawardrick Marsher, 29, the main perpetrator of the assault, was sentenced to 50 weekends in jail and a period of probation. Deonte Pate, 24, was sentenced to 12 weekends in jail and to a period of probation for his role in concealing the incident. Romander Nelson, 44, was sentenced to 14 weekends in jail and a period of probation for failing to intervene to protect the victim.
The Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman is the largest prison in the state, housing more than 3,000 inmates. It has operated continuously as both a prison and a working farm since 1901.
“We have been consistent in our message,” said Christopher Freeze, special agent in charge of the FBI in Mississippi. “Corrections officers are not above the law. In fact, law enforcement officers should be held to a higher standard. This corrections supervisor heinously abused his power, infringing upon the Constitutional rights of the inmate, when he assisted with covering up the crime. It was our duty to bring him to justice. The FBI is committed and will continue to aggressively investigate any civil rights allegations."
This case was investigated by the FBI’s Jackson Division, with the cooperation of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Coleman of the Northern District of Mississippi and Trial Attorney Dana Mulhauser of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section.
A sergeant and two ex-correctional officers at the State Penitentiary at Parchman are facing federal charges involving the alleged beating of an inmate.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced the indictment Tuesday.
Lawardrick Marsher, 28, and Robert Sturdivant, 47, are charged in a nine-count indictment with beating, including kicking, punching and throwing the victim to the ground. Marsher and Sturdivant were charged with violating the right of the inmate, who is identified as K.H. in court records. The indictment said the inmate has a right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Sturdivant was also charged with failing to intervene while Marsher was punching and beating K.H. The indictment alleges that their actions involved the use of a dangerous weapon and resulted in bodily injury to the victim.
The third officer, Deonte Pate, 23, was charged along with Marsher and Sturdivant with conspiring to cover up the beating. The indictment alleges that all three officers submitted false reports and that all three lied to the FBI.
Sturdivant, a sergeant, is the only one still employed with the Mississippi Department of Corrections, Marsher and Pate, who were correctional officers, are no longer employed, according to Mississippi Department of Corrections.
"The Mississippi Department of Corrections has zero tolerance for the conduct alleged in this indictment," Commissioner Marshall Fisher said. "MDOC tolerates no wrongdoing on the part of its employees. During my watch, I have worked and will continue to work with other agencies to ensure that any allegations of misconduct are investigated. We hold our officers to high standards, and referring matters to the FBI will continue to be MDOC's practice."
MDOC is determining the appropriate personnel action to take against Sturdivant in the wake of the indictment. He couldn't be reached for comment.
The indictment says the alleged criminal activity took place from March 9, 2014 to August 2014.
According to the indictment, the three defendants wrote false official reports to the FBI and other law enforcement with the intent to impede, instruct, and influence the investigation of the assault on the inmate.
"On or about March 9, 2014, Robert Sturdivant wrote an official incident report under the name of R.N. that falsely minimized and justified the force used against K.H. and gave it to R.N. to sign and submit under her own name," the indictment says.
If convicted, Marsher and Sturdivant face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison on the excessive force charges. Each of the three officers face up to five years in prison on the conspiracy and false statement charges, and up to 20 years in prison on the false report charges. Each was given a $10,000 unsecured bond and the Federal Public Defender's office was appointed to represent them.
“Through the years, unjustified officer beatings of inmates have not been rare, but have been routinely covered up or not really investigated," longtime prisoners rights attorney Ron Welch said. "Indictments for that unlawful behavior is what has been rare.”
The Jackson Division of the FBI and the Mississippi Department of Corrections are investigating the case, which was filed in the Northern District of Mississippi U.S. District Court. The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division's Criminal Section is helping the local U.S. attorney's office for the Northern District to prosecute the case.