Former District of Columbia Department of Corrections Officer Victor Bell, 25, pleaded guilty today to a criminal civil rights charge for assaulting an inmate in the District of Columbia Central Detention Facility (D.C. jail).
During the plea proceedings, Bell admitted that on Jan. 4, 2012, he became upset with an inmate who was expressing his disapproval of a pat-down search that Bell was conducting of another inmate in a third-floor corridor. Bell then began following the disapproving inmate as he started to walk away. Bell confronted him chest-to-chest, and the inmate again attempted to walk away. After handing off his eyeglasses to another D.C. jail employee, Bell once again followed the inmate, and with both hands, pushed him in the back.
As the confrontation continued, Bell grabbed the inmate by the shoulder, pushed him into a corner of the corridor, and began punching him repeatedly in the head. In addition, Bell grabbed the inmate’s dreadlocks, pulling one out. Even after another corrections officer called for assistance, Bell continued punching the inmate until other officers pulled him away.
At no point during the incident did the inmate physically fight the defendant. The inmate, who was disoriented, was taken to the infirmary, where a cut to his right eye was sutured.
“While the vast majority of law enforcement officers perform their duties with great care and honor, those who seek to violate the civil rights of those in their custody will be held accountable,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously prosecute officers who cross the line to engage in acts of criminal conduct.”
“No one is above the law, and no one is undeserving of the law’s protection,” said U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. “In the District of Columbia, we expect corrections officers to perform their duties as professionals, which the vast majority do under challenging circumstances every day. This prosecution illustrates the strength of our commitment to vindicating the civil rights of all people.”
“Today, Victor Bell admitted to abusing the power afforded to him as a corrections officer,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge James W. McJunkin. “This investigation and guilty plea demonstrate that the FBI and our law enforcement partners will pursue justice against anyone who deprives another individual of their civil rights.”
Bell faces a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine. Sentencing has been set for July 11, 2012.
As part of the plea agreement, Bell agreed to resign from the Department of Corrections and to never again seek employment as a law enforcement officer, in any capacity and in any jurisdiction. In addition, he has agreed to perform 150 hours of community service.
This case was investigated by the FBI and the Office of Internal Affairs of the District of Columbia Department of Corrections and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jean Sexton of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for District of Columbia and Trial Attorney William Nolan of the Civil Rights Division.