Former Arkansas Juvenile Detention Officer Pleads Guilty to Assaulting Juvenile Detainee
The Justice Department today announced that former White River Juvenile Detention Center officer Jason Benton, 43, pleaded guilty today in federal court to using pepper spray to assault a fifteen-year-old boy, and for obstructing justice by falsifying an incident report about that assault.
According to the guilty plea, Benton instructed the juvenile, who was locked in his cell, to be quiet. Benton then had the juvenile’s cell door opened and ordered the juvenile to come out of his cell with his mattress. The juvenile picked up his mattress as instructed. As the juvenile turned to face the cell door, holding the mattress in both arms, Benton pepper sprayed the juvenile in the face from a distance of a few inches. Benton continued spraying the juvenile as he tried to turn his head away from the spray. Benton then took the juvenile to the ground. Benton covered up the assault when he falsified an incident report, saying that the juvenile had attempted to lunge at him with his fists clenched, when in fact the juvenile had posed no physical threat.
Benton is the third former officer to plead guilty to charges stemming from assaults on juvenile detainees at the White River Juvenile Detention Center. On April 26, 2017, former White River supervisors Captain Peggy Kendrick, 44, and Lieutenant Dennis Fuller, 40, pleaded guilty to conspiring to assault juvenile detainees. Kendrick also pleaded guilty to assaulting a sixteen-year-old girl using pepper spray and for obstructing justice. Kendrick and Fuller await sentencing. Two other former White River Juvenile Detention Center officers, Will Ray, 26, and Thomas Farris, 48, are scheduled to begin trial on Aug. 28, before Senior United States District Judge Billy Roy Wilson in Little Rock on related charges of conspiring to assault and assaulting juveniles.
“Federal law protects all individuals – including those who are incarcerated – from the use of excessive force by those acting under color of law,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division. “We will vigorously investigate and prosecute officers who break the public trust in this way.”
“When law enforcement officers violate the law and the public trust, they will be prosecuted and held accountable,” said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas Cody Hiland. “There will be no exception. This officer broke his oath to uphold the Constitution, injured a juvenile in the process, and then tried to cover it up. That is a crime, and those who commit crimes will be punished accordingly.”
Benton faces a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
This case is being investigated by the FBI’s Little Rock Division. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Peters of the Eastern District of Arkansas and Trial Attorney Samantha Trepel of the Civil Rights Division.