Four Ky. COs plead guilty to roles in assault of restrained inmate
The four have their sentencing postponed as there are additional "targets" that will face charges for participating in or covering up the assault
By Mary Jane Epling
The Daily Independent
ASHLAND, Ky. — Four co-defendants have now pleaded guilty in federal court for their roles in a cover-up of a brutal assault of an inmate at the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex in 2018.
Per court documents filed in U.S. District Court, Randy L. Nickell, James D. Benish, Jeffery T. Havens and Derek A. Mays participated in or falsified records in a federal investigation into an assault on an inmate at the hands of correctional officers.
The inmate, who is unnamed in available court records, was reportedly taken to an isolated shower stall where he was punched, kicked and stomped about the head, face and body by officers on July 24, 2018.
Federal investigators later determined the inmate was unresisting, lying facedown and restrained by handcuffs and leg shackles at the time of the beating, despite what the correctional officers reported.
A former sergeant and supervisor at the facility, Nickell was arraigned on charges of falsification of records in federal investigations and two counts of knowingly engaging in misleading conduct in order to delay, prevent communication of a federal offense on Monday.
U.S. attorneys alleged Nickell falsely reported the inmate was non-compliant and kicking at staff.
"This statement was false and misleading because, as Nickell then well knew, (unnamed officer), Officer (Havens) and Officer (Benish), punched and kicked (the inmate) multiple times in the face, head and body while (the inmate) was unresisting, lying facedown and restrained by handcuffs and leg shackles," general allegations state.
In the following days, Nickell is accused of lying again to a prison supervisor and a Kentucky State Police detective, stating he didn't see, hear or observe excessive force, nor did he know what caused the injuries to the inmate.
With penalties suggesting 20 years in prison for those counts, Nickell entered a guilty plea for the "destruction, alteration, or falsification of records in a federal investigation" and two counts of "tampering with a witness, victim or informant," the plea agreement reads.
Within the plea agreement, Nickell admitted to making a false entry in his initial report with the intent to prevent or obstruct the investigation.
By utilizing sentencing guidelines, both Nickell's council, Michael B. Fox, and U.S. Attorneys suggested a punishment of 10 to 16 months incarcerated, with half to be probated.
Mays was also charged with falsifying records in a federal investigation and three counts of hindering, delaying and preventing communication of a federal offense in July 2022.
According to court documents, Mays reported to a prison supervisor, KSP and internal investigators that he never observed an assault although prosecutors believe he witnessed it first-hand.
Mays stated to multiple investigators that he didn't believe excessive force was used and stated the officers had to stop the inmate from "thrashing" and "kicking" them despite evidence showing he was facedown and restrained.
On July 11, 2022, Mays entered a guilty plea to destruction, alteration or falsification of records in a federal investigation and to three counts of tampering with a witness, victim or informant.
Mays sentencing recommendation equated to 10 to 16 months of incarceration, with half to be probated.
Havens, accused of actually partaking in the assault along with two other officers, was arraigned in August 2022 on a sole count of depriving civil rights under the color of law.
Court records indicate Havens assaulted and failed to intervene resulting in bodily injury of the inmate when he held the inmate against the ground and "punched the inmate in the back of the upper torso multiple times with a closed fist" while telling the man to stop resisting.
U.S. attorney's called Havens supposed actions an unnecessary use of force, a "wanton infliction of pain," and a violation of the inmate's Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.
Havens, who is represented by Michael Campbell, entered a guilty plea in August 2022 to a sole count of depriving civil rights with a 30- to 37-month punishment recommendation.
Lastly, Benish was arraigned and re-arraigned on a sole count of depriving civil rights under the color of law for also abandoning his duty to intervene and protect the inmate.
According to the plea agreement, Benish admits to knowing the other officer's conduct were unlawful and a violation on Constitutional limits and the use of force allowed by the Department of Corrections.
"The defendant (Benish) had the means and opportunity to intervene during this assault but chose not to do so ... (the inmate) suffered injuries because of the Defendant's failure to intervene to stop the assault," per court documentation.
Benish also admitted to contributing to the cover-up by omitting the assault in reports and lying about witnessing it to investigators.
Attorneys recommended a 30- to 37-month punishment for Benish as well.
The four have their sentencing postponed until December as there are additional "targets" that will face charges for participating in or covering up the assault.
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