Justice News

Department of Justice
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Monday, July 3, 2017

Mississippi Corrections Officers Sentenced for Inmate Assault and Cover-Up

Mississippi correctional officer Robert Sturdivant, 48, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and one (1) year of supervised release for leading the cover-up after an inmate was severely beaten at the state’s Parchman Prison, the Justice Department announced today.

Three other officers have already been sentenced for the March 9, 2014, incident, in which an officer punched and kicked the victim while he lay nonresistant on the ground. The victim was temporarily blinded by the attack and suffered severe blood loss, a broken orbital bone, and permanent partial vision loss.

After the attack, Sturdivant, a supervisor, led the three other officers to create a cover story that falsely minimized and falsely justified the force used by officers. He pleaded guilty in February.

“Supervisory officers must be held accountable for permitting and encouraging the officers under their watch from committing violent acts,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler. “The Department of Justice is committed to enforcing the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution.”

Three other officers were sentenced on June 2 for their roles in the beating and the cover-up. Lawardrick Marsher, 29, the main perpetrator of the assault, was sentenced to 50 weekends in jail and a period of probation. Deonte Pate, 24, was sentenced to 12 weekends in jail and to a period of probation for his role in concealing the incident. Romander Nelson, 44, was sentenced to 14 weekends in jail and a period of probation for failing to intervene to protect the victim.

The Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman is the largest prison in the state, housing more than 3,000 inmates. It has operated continuously as both a prison and a working farm since 1901.

“We have been consistent in our message,” said Christopher Freeze, special agent in charge of the FBI in Mississippi. “Corrections officers are not above the law. In fact, law enforcement officers should be held to a higher standard. This corrections supervisor heinously abused his power, infringing upon the Constitutional rights of the inmate, when he assisted with covering up the crime. It was our duty to bring him to justice. The FBI is committed and will continue to aggressively investigate any civil rights allegations."

This case was investigated by the FBI’s Jackson Division, with the cooperation of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Coleman of the Northern District of Mississippi and Trial Attorney Dana Mulhauser of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section.

Civil Rights
Press Release Number: 
Updated November 8, 2017