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Former Harrison County, Mississippi, Corrections Officer Found Guilty of Criminal Civil Rights Violations, Obstruction of Justice

WASHINGTON – A federal jury convicted Ryan Michael Teel, a former corrections officer, for his role in abusing inmates at the Harrison County Adult Detention Center in Gulfport, Miss., the Justice Department announced today. Teel was found guilty of conspiracy to violate inmates’ civil rights, and specifically, for depriving Jessie Lee Williams Jr. of his civil rights on Feb. 4, 2006. Williams died from severe brain trauma after being beaten by Teel in the booking room of the jail. The jury also convicted Teel for obstructing justice by writing a false report to cover up the Williams assault.

During the two-week trial in Hattiesburg, Miss., jurors heard testimony from numerous officers, including several who had previously pled guilty to federal civil rights crimes, that Teel was one of the ringleaders in a conspiracy aimed at physically abusing inmates. The jury heard that Teel was involved in creating a culture of violence at the jail, particularly in the booking area where inmates are processed into the facility.

During the course of the federal investigation that led up to this trial, eight corrections officers pleaded guilty to civil rights violations. In the past nine months, former Deputies Dedri Yulon Caldwell, Daniel Lamont Evans, William Jeffrey Priest, Karl Walter Stolze, Morgan Lee Thompson, and Preston Thomas Wills have all pleaded guilty to conspiring to abuse inmates at the jail. Former Deputies Regina Lynn Rhodes and Timothy Brandon Moore have also pleaded guilty to civil rights crimes and obstruction of justice.

“Ryan Michael Teel and other corrections officers created a culture of violence and abuse that resulted in the death of Jessie Lee Williams Jr. and violations of the civil rights of other inmates. These officers misused their positions of power and violated the public trust when they abused those in their custody,” said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. “This case demonstrates the Department’s commitment to aggressively pursuing law enforcement officials who cross the line to engage in criminal misconduct.”

“Today’s verdict brings to an end a tragic and troubling era in the Harrison County Jail,” said U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton. “What the jury and public have now seen is the result of a very thorough and meticulous investigation resulting in the convictions of nine former jailers who were involved in this criminal culture of violence. I praise the outstanding investigative work of the FBI and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, the valuable cooperation from District Attorney Cono Caranna and Sheriff George Payne, and the skill and efforts of DOJ Trial Attorneys Lisa Krigsten and John Richmond and members of my staff.”

Teel faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. Sentencing is set for Nov. 1, 2007, before U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. Teel’s co-defendant, James Ricky Gaston, was acquitted on the conspiracy charge as well as two separate charges for assaulting inmates at the jail.

The Civil Rights Division is committed to the vigorous enforcement of every federal criminal civil rights statute, such as those laws that prohibit the willful use of excessive force or other acts of misconduct by law enforcement officials. The Division has compiled a significant record on criminal civil rights prosecutions. In the past six fiscal years, as compared to the previous six years, the Criminal Section filed 25 percent more color of law cases and obtained convictions of 50 percent more defendants.

Federal prosecutors Lisa M. Krigsten and John Cotton Richmond of the Civil Rights Division handled this matter for the Department of Justice with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Assistant Attorney General Kim 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.