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Press Release

Stone County, Arkansas, Chief Sheriff's Deputy Sentenced to Prison for Instructing Inmates to Assault Another Prisoner

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Arkansas

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced today that Randel Branscum, 56, formerly the chief sheriff’s deputy and jail administrator for the Stone County Sheriff’s Office in Mountain View, Arkansas, was sentenced to 12 months and one day in prison for instructing a group of prisoners to beat another inmate and then arranging for the assault to occur.

As a part of his guilty plea, which occurred on March 2, 2016, Branscum admitted that while acting under his authority as jail administrator, he approached a group of inmates, who were detained together in cell 33 and told them to "handle" the victim. Branscum then moved the victim, who had been housed in a neighboring cell, into cell 33. When the victim realized he was about to be assaulted and attempted to leave the cell, Branscum forced the victim inside and then allowed the victim to be beaten as instructed. During the assault, the victim was repeatedly punched and his head was knocked into a windowsill, causing a head wound and other injuries.

"This corrections officer abused his power to order a violent assault against a prisoner," said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. "We expect and entrust corrections officers with the responsibility to care for and protect inmates in their custody. When corrections officers fail to uphold that oath, their actions corrode our justice system’s fundamental values and create an environment that is more dangerous for inmates as well as officers."

"This type of abuse of power and authority will never be tolerated by the citizens of Arkansas, or my office," said U.S. Attorney Christopher R. Thyer of the Eastern District of Arkansas. "The public deserves to know that law enforcement and correctional officers are trustworthy and law-abiding citizens, held to high ethical standards. When an officer strays from that standard, as this officer did, they will be held accountable for their illegal actions."

One of the inmates who carried out the beating, Matthew McConniel, was also sentenced today for the same offense as Branscum and received a term of probation. On May 26, 2016, another inmate who took part in the beating, James Beckham, was also sentenced to probation for the offense. All three defendants were sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge Brian S. Miller of the Eastern District of Arkansas.

This case was investigated by the FBI. It was prosecuted by Special Litigation Counsel Gerard Hogan, Trial Attorneys Gabriel Davis and Samantha Trepel of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Peters of the Eastern District of Arkansas.

Updated November 22, 2016

Civil Rights