WASHINGTON – Thomas Preston Wills, a former deputy with the Harrison County Sheriff’s Department, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to violate the civil rights of inmates housed at the Harrison County Adult Detention Center in Mississippi. The charge arises from Wills’ employment as a corrections officer at the prison between November 2002 and April 2006. Wills faces up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of $250,000.
In documents filed in federal court today, Wills admitted that he and other corrections officers participated in a conspiracy to intentionally use excessive force to punish, intimidate, injure, oppress, threaten and retaliate against inmates at the facility.
In a related case, former deputy Ryan Michael Teel was indicted on charges relating to the circumstances surrounding the death of an inmate who died as a result of injuries sustained at the prison in February 2006. Teel faces a maximum penalty of life in prison on count one of the indictment, and a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on count two. Three other former officers, Dedri Yulon Caldwell, Regina Rhodes and Morgan Thompson, have also previously pleaded guilty to participating in a conspiracy to violate the civil rights of inmates.
The Civil Rights Division is committed to the vigorous enforcement of every federal criminal civil rights statute, such as laws that prohibit the willful use of excessive force or other acts of misconduct by law enforcement officials. In fiscal year 2006, nearly 50 percent of the cases brought by the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division involved such prosecutions. Since fiscal year 2001, the Division has convicted 50 percent more defendants for excessive force and official misconduct than in the preceding six years.
Civil Rights Division prosecutors Lisa M. Krigsten and John Cotton Richmond and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack B. Lacy Jr. handled this matter for the Department. The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation assisted the Department of Justice in its investigation of this matter.