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Former Mississippi Corrections Officer Sentenced for Role in Death of Inmate After Beating in Jail Booking Room

WASHINGTON — Ryan Michael Teel, a former corrections officer, was sentenced today in federal court for his role in the death of Jessie Lee Williams Jr. at the Harrison County Adult Detention Center in Gulfport, Miss., on Feb. 4, 2006. Williams died from severe brain trauma after he was beaten by Teel in the booking room of the jail. Teel was sentenced to serve life in prison for his role in Williams’ death and his role in conspiring to abuse other inmates during his tenure as a corrections officer.

Teel was convicted on Aug. 16, 2007, by a federal jury sitting in Hattiesburg, Miss. During the two-week trial, jurors heard testimony from numerous officers, including several who had previously pled guilty to federal civil rights crimes, that Teel was a ringleader in a conspiracy aimed at physically abusing inmates. The jury heard that Teel and other officers created a culture of violence in the booking room, where inmates are processed into the facility.

During the course of the investigation, nine additional corrections officers were convicted of federal crimes. Former Deputies Dedri Yulon Caldwell, Daniel Lamont Evans, William Jeffrey Priest, Karl Walter Stolze, Morgan Lee Thompson, and Preston Thomas Wills all pleaded guilty to conspiring to abuse inmates at the jail. Former Deputies Regina Lynn Rhodes, Timothy Brandon Moore, and Broderick Fulton also pleaded guilty to civil rights crimes and obstruction of justice. These nine defendants will be sentenced on Nov. 5, 2007.

“Defendant Teel promised to enforce the law, but he abused that authority to inflict suffering and death on an inmate entrusted to his care,” stated Acting Attorney General Peter D. Keisler stated. “This prosecution, which resulted in the conviction not only of defendant Teel, but of nine other officers, reflects the Department’s commitment to rooting out official misconduct. Today’s sentence sends a message that the Department of Justice will not tolerate such violent abuse of official authority.”

“Today’s sentence should restore the public confidence in our system of justice by showing that no one, not even law enforcement officers, are above the law and that the civil rights of all citizens, regardless of their circumstances, must be protected,” stated Dunn Lampton, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi. “The sentence further shows that persons convicted of violating the civil rights of others will be punished accordingly.”

The Civil Rights Division is committed to the aggressive enforcement of the nation’s civil rights laws. In the past six years, the Division has convicted nearly 50 percent more defendants for color of law violations, or official misconduct, than in the previous six years. The Division continues to set records in the enforcement of criminal civil law. In Fiscal Year 2007, the Division convicted 189 defendants for civil rights violations, which is a record number in the 50-year history of the Division. The Division’s 2007 record broke the previous record set in 2006.

Federal prosecutors Lisa M. Krigsten and John Cotton Richmond of the Civil Rights Division handled this matter for the Department of Justice. Acting Attorney General Keisler and U.S. Attorney Lampton thank the Mississippi Highway Patrol for their unwavering assistance during the course of this important investigation. Special Agent Joel J. Wallace of the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation served as the lead investigator throughout the investigation.