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Former Ala. prison lieutenant sentenced to 9 years for failing to stop inmate beating

Authorities said the supervisor stood silent until the end of the beating, at which time he commented, “That’s fair”

Elmore Correctional Facility

In this June 18, 2015, photo, a fence stands at Elmore Correctional Facility in Elmore, Ala.

AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File

By Carol Robinson

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A former Alabama corrections lieutenant has been sentenced to federal prison for failing to stop an officer under his command from assaulting a prison inmate.

Willie M. Burks III was convicted last year in connection with the Feb. 16, 2019, incident at the Elmore Correctional Facility. On Friday, he was sentenced to nine years in prison with two years of supervised release to follow, according to U.S. Department of Justice officials and the Middle District of Alabama U.S. Attorney’s Office.

According to DOJ, the evidence at trial showed Burks watched calmly as his subordinate, Sgt. Ulysses Oliver, took a handcuffed and compliant inmate out of an observation room, threw him onto the ground, and then punched, kicked, and beat him with a baton.

Rather than intervene, as Burks had been trained to do, authorities said Burks stood silent until the end of the beating, at which time he commented, “That’s fair.”

When Oliver turned himself in for using excessive force, triggering an investigation, Burks instructed Oliver to write in his report that Burks had told him to stop, even though that was not true, in order to cover up his failure to intervene.

Burks was the fourth correctional officer to be convicted in federal court in connection with the assault. Oliver previously pleaded guilty for assaulting the inmate, and former Corrections Officers Briana Mosley and Leon Williams, who were also present during the assault, previously pleaded guilty for failing to intervene.

“Those working inside our jails and prisons have a duty to intervene in the face of unlawful and violent conduct being carried out by their colleagues,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Under the Constitution, correctional officers may not physically assault inmates for violations of prison rules, and any officials who see this happening must do what they can to stop it. The Department of Justice will vigorously prosecute officers who stand by and do nothing while other officers brutalize inmates in their charge.”

“The job of a correctional officer can be difficult and hazardous,” said U.S. Attorney Sandra J. Stewart for the Middle District of Alabama. “A vast majority of them serve with honor and are dedicated to upholding their duty to protect and serve. Unfortunately, some choose to ignore their sacred oaths and engage in criminal conduct or turn a blind eye when others do so. This office will continue to vigorously enforce our nation’s laws and hold officers who break the law accountable.”

“The unacceptable actions of Willie Burks in no way reflect the hard and tireless work of our corrections staff, who endeavor each day to provide a safe and rehabilitative environment for all incarcerated people,” said Arnaldo Mercado, the ADOC’s Law Enforcement Services Division’s Chief Law Enforcement Officer. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms Burks’ behavior and blatant violation of his sworn oath to serve. Any and all incidents such as this are thoroughly investigated and, if appropriate, referred to the proper prosecuting authority. We extend our thanks to the Department of Justice for their assistance in bringing forth justice in this case.”

“The mission to protect the civil rights of American citizens is a priority of the men and women of the FBI and does not end after incarceration,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Bryan D. Duchene of the FBI’s Mobile Division. “The actions of the corrections officers in this case will not be tolerated and we are proud to be a part of bringing them to justice.”

This case was investigated by the FBI’s Mobile Division and ADOC’s Law Enforcement Services Division. Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Counts of the Middle District of Alabama and Trial Attorneys Katherine DeVar and David Reese of the Civil Rights Division prosecuted the case.

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