Former Alabama Correctional Lieutenant Sentenced for Failing to Intervene in Unlawful Inmate Assault
The Justice Department today announced that Willie M. Burks III, 41, a former Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) lieutenant, was sentenced in federal court to nine years’ imprisonment, with two years of supervised release to follow. Burks was convicted by a federal jury on July 21, 2021, of failing to stop an officer under his command from assaulting an inmate at ADOC’s Elmore Correctional Facility.
The evidence at trial established that on Feb. 16, 2019, former Correctional Sergeant Ulysses Oliver Jr., Burks’ subordinate, went to an observation room holding two handcuffed and unresisting inmates. Oliver, intending to punish the inmates for bringing contraband into the prison, pulled the first inmate from the observation room into an adjacent hallway, where he struck the victim multiple times with his fists and feet, and then used his collapsible baton to repeatedly strike the victim. Burks came into the hallway after Oliver had finished beating the first inmate. Burks then stood and watched as Oliver pulled the second inmate from the observation room, threw him on the floor, and beat the inmate with his feet and his collapsible baton. Despite having the duty, ability and opportunity to intervene to stop Oliver from beating the second inmate, Burks only stood by and said, “it’s fair.” Other ADOC correctional staff who reported to Burks were present for some or all of the assaults, but none intervened to stop Oliver from beating the inmates.
After the assault, Burks allowed Oliver to come back into the observation room where the victims were held. As Burks again stood by and did nothing, Oliver entered, stood over the victims, and shoved the tip of his baton into the face of one of the victims, lacerating the victim’s face.
Oliver and two other former corrections officers have pleaded guilty in connection with this incident. Oliver pleaded guilty to assaulting the two inmates on April 2, 2019. Former ADOC correctional officers Bryanna Mosley and Leon Williams pleaded guilty in May and July 2019, respectively, to failing to intervene to stop the assaults.
“Those working inside our jails and prisons have a duty to intervene in the face of unlawful and violent conduct being carried out by their colleagues,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Under the Constitution, correctional officers may not physically assault inmates for violations of prison rules, and any officials who see this happening must do what they can to stop it. The Department of Justice will vigorously prosecute officers who stand by and do nothing while other officers brutalize inmates in their charge.”
“The job of a correctional officer can be difficult and hazardous,” said U.S. Attorney Sandra J. Stewart for the Middle District of Alabama. “A vast majority of them serve with honor and are dedicated to upholding their duty to protect and serve. Unfortunately, some choose to ignore their sacred oaths and engage in criminal conduct or turn a blind eye when others do so. This office will continue to vigorously enforce our nation’s laws and hold officers who break the law accountable.”
“The unacceptable actions of Willie Burks in no way reflect the hard and tireless work of our corrections staff, who endeavor each day to provide a safe and rehabilitative environment for all incarcerated people,” said Arnaldo Mercado, the ADOC’s Law Enforcement Services Division’s Chief Law Enforcement Officer. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms Burks’ behavior and blatant violation of his sworn oath to serve. Any and all incidents such as this are thoroughly investigated and, if appropriate, referred to the proper prosecuting authority. We extend our thanks to the Department of Justice for their assistance in bringing forth justice in this case.”
“The mission to protect the civil rights of American citizens is a priority of the men and women of the FBI and does not end after incarceration,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Bryan D. Duchene of the FBI’s Mobile Division. “The actions of the corrections officers in this case will not be tolerated and we are proud to be a part of bringing them to justice.”
This case was investigated by the FBI’s Mobile Division and ADOC’s Law Enforcement Services Division. Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Counts of the Middle District of Alabama and Trial Attorneys Katherine DeVar and David Reese of the Civil Rights Division prosecuted the case.