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Former Ky. correctional sergeant convicted in inmate assault

Eric Nantell, former correctional supervisor at Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex, was convicted of depriving the inmate’s civil rights, tampering with a witness victim or informant and making false statements

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Nantell is currently scheduled for sentencing on June 10, when he faces up to 20 years in prison. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Nati Harnik/AP

By Mary Jane Epling
The Daily Independent, Ashland, Ky.

ASHLAND, Ky. — After four days of trial, a jury has found a former sergeant guilty of failing to intervene as correctional officers brutally assaulted a restrained inmate and then contributed to an attempted cover-up by lying to investigators.

Eric Nantell, previously a correctional supervisor at Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex in West Liberty, was convicted of depriving an inmate’s civil rights by standing by as his subordinates pummeled a restrained man inside of a shower stall in 2018.

In addition to his inaction, U.S. prosecutors alleged Nantell went on to obstruct formal investigations by telling prison supervisors he never observed his officers using excessive force against the inmate, inconsistent with the U.S.'s evidence suggesting Nantell knew and watched the inmate’s assault while restrained.

As the investigations continued by Kentucky State Police and eventually the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Nantell maintained his story, telling a KSP detective the inmate’s injuries were sustained when he was placed on the ground.

The jury also believed the U.S. proved that Nantell lied to the FBI and KSP when he advised he had no information to assist in their investigation and that he didn’t see anything happen to the inmate — contradicting evidence that proved he watched a portion, if not all, of the assault on the inmate.

Of the exhibits presented to the jury during the four-day trial, which began on Monday, the jury was shown images of the inmate’s injuries, including swelling, abrasions and blood throughout his hair.

After a little more than an hour of deliberation on Thursday, the jury found Nantell guilty of all four counts, including deprivation of the inmate’s civil right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, tampering with a witness victim or informant and making false statements.

Nantell is currently scheduled for sentencing on June 10 , when he faces up to 20 years in prison.

In addition to Nantell, six correctional officers were arraigned on charges in relation to their direct roles in the beating, failing to intervene and in allegedly lying to investigators about witnessing or using excessive force against the inmate.

Randy L. Nickell, James D. Benish, Jeffery T. Havens, Derek A. Mays, Randall T. Dennis and Nathan M. Cantrell have all made appearances in United States District Court of the Eastern District of Kentucky.

Court records indicate Cantrell, Dennis, Nickell, Benish, Havens and Mays pleaded guilty in either the assault itself or for falsifying records in the follow-up investigations.

Nickell and Havens were two former officers who the U.S. allege took an active role in assaulting the inmate, in which the non-resisting and restrained man was kicked and punched in his head and face by Nickell and was held down by Havens, who punched him multiple times in the torso.

The remaining defendants, including Nickell and Havens, will be sentenced on March 11.

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