Two Former Arkansas Juvenile Detention Officers Sentenced to Prison for Assaulting Juvenile Detainees
Two former White River Regional Juvenile Detention Center officers, including a former supervisor, Lieutenant Dennis Fuller, 41, and Officer Jason Benton, 44, were sentenced to prison for their roles in conspiring to assault juvenile inmates, assaulting juveniles, and obstructing justice by falsifying incident reports about the assaults. Fuller was sentenced to 36 months in prison and two years of supervised release, and Benton was sentenced to 30 months in prison and two years of supervised release, announced Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland of the Eastern District of Arkansas, and Special Agent in charge Diane Upchurch of the FBI Little Rock Field Office.
On April 26, 2017, Fuller and former Captain Peggy Kendrick, who will be sentenced on a later date in April, pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring to assault juvenile inmates at the White River facility. On May 16, 2017, Benton pleaded guilty to using pepper spray to assault a 15-year-old boy, and for obstructing justice by falsifying an incident report about that assault. Fuller was sentenced today by United States District Court Judge James M. Moody Jr., and Benton was sentenced today by Senior United States District Court Judge Billy Roy Wilson, both of the Eastern District of Arkansas.
“These defendants egregiously abused their powers by assaulting teenagers in their custody,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “The Department will not tolerate such abuses, and will continue to vigorously enforce our nation’s laws and hold officers who break the public trust in this way accountable.”
“The needless abuse of juveniles in custody is reprehensible. These officers had a responsibility to follow the law, but they instead chose to victimize children who were placed under their watch. Today’s sentences send a message that those placed in positions of authority will not be allowed to abuse that authority,” said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas Cody Hiland.
“Law enforcement officers should always hold themselves to the highest standards. These corrections officers failed to do that by abusing juveniles in their custody and care. Their actions will not be tolerated. This should be a warning to any corrections officers who exploit their position of authority and violates the civil rights of those in their custody,” stated Special Agent in Charge Diane Upchurch with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Little Rock, “I appreciate the hard work of the FBI employees, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and the USAO of the Eastern District of Arkansas in this case.”
According to the plea documents, Kendrick and Fuller assaulted and physically punished juvenile detainees who posed no threat, including by spraying them in the face with pepper spray. In some instances, they then shut the compliant juveniles in their cells after pepper spraying them to “let them cook,” or continue suffering the effects of the pepper spray, rather than immediately decontaminating them. Kendrick also encouraged other juvenile detention officers to unjustifiably assault juveniles and to falsify their incident reports to cover up the assaults. Benton, one such officer, assaulted a 15-year-old boy, who was locked in his cell, for failing to be quiet. Benton 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.
This case was investigated by the FBI’s Little Rock Division. Trial Attorneys Samantha Trepel and Michael J. Songer of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and Assistant United States Attorneys Julie Peters and Pat Harris of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas prosecuted the case.