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Press Release

Fifth Tennessee Correctional Officer Pleads Guilty to Civil Rights Offense for Beating Inmate and Conspiring to Cover up the Incident

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

Jonathan York, 33, pleaded guilty to using unlawful force on an inmate and then conspiring to cover up the incident while York was serving as a correctional officer with the Tennessee Department of Corrections, announced Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee D. Michael Dunavant, and FBI-Memphis Special Agent in Charge M.A. Myers.

“The Justice Department does not tolerate assault by correctional officers of the people they are charged with protecting,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “We work tirelessly to protect the civil rights of all citizens.”

"Correctional officers must abide by and adhere to the same laws they take an oath to uphold and enforce,” said U.S. Attorney D. Michael Dunavant for the Western District of Tennessee. “Instead of serving and protecting the public, this officer used unlawful and excessive physical force to violate the civil rights of an individual by repeatedly punching and injuring him. As a result, he will now be held accountable, vividly illustrating that no one is above the law.”

With his guilty plea, York admitted that, on Feb. 1, he and other correctional officers entered the cell of R.T., an inmate in the mental health unit at the Northwest County Correctional Complex in Tiptonville, Tennessee. York asked a fellow officer to cover the surveillance camera in the cell. R.T. was seated in the cell and did not pose a threat to the officers. York punched R.T. in retaliation for R.T. spitting earlier. York punched R.T. in the neck, face, back, and chest. York admitted to punching R.T. around 30 times. York’s punches caused visible injury to R.T. and caused him to bleed.

With his guilty plea, York admitted that two other correctional officers punched R.T. York stood by and watched as those officers assaulted R.T. The supervisory officer in the cell also did not intervene to stop York or the other officers from punching R.T.

After the assault of R.T., York spoke with other correctional officers and the supervisory officer. The supervisory officer told the group to say that R.T.’s injuries were self-inflicted. York understood that the supervisory officer was directing them to relay a false cover story. When York spoke to other staff members immediately after the incident, he did not provide complete information about what happened inside R.T.’s cell. In the days after the assault, York spoke to a correctional officer who had also been in R.T.’s cell. They agreed to falsely claim that R.T. injured himself.

With today’s guilty plea, York admitted that he violated 18 U.S.C. § 242 when he repeatedly punched and injured inmate R.T. without legal justification and that he violated 18 U.S.C. § 371 when he conspired to cover up the incident. The maximum penalty is 10 years imprisonment for the civil rights offense and 5 years imprisonment for the conspiracy offense. Sentencing is set to take place on Jan. 5, 2021.

Previously, former correctional officers Nathaniel Griffin, Tanner Penwell, Carl Spurlin, Jr., and Cadie McAlister entered guilty pleas for criminal offenses arising out of the assault of inmate R.T.

This case was investigated by the Memphis Division of the FBI with the support of the Tennessee Department of Corrections, and is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Rebekah J. Bailey of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney David Pritchard of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee.

Updated June 10, 2020

Civil Rights
Press Release Number: 20-525