Three Former Arkansas Juvenile Detention Officers Indicted for Conspiracy to Assault Juvenile Detainees
LITTLE ROCK—Patrick C. Harris, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and Diane Upchurch, Special Agent in Charge of the Little Rock Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), announced today that three former White River Juvenile Detention Center officers, Will Ray, 26, Thomas Farris, 47, and Jason Benton, 42, have been indicted by a federal grand jury for their roles in a conspiracy to assault juvenile inmates.
The White River Juvenile Detention Center is located in Batesville, Arkansas. The seven-count Indictment charges that Ray, Farris, and Benton conspired to and did assault juvenile detainees. The indictment charges that, in some instances the defendants used pepper spray on the juveniles and then, rather than decontaminating them, shut them in their cells to “let them cook.”
“As I have stated before, there is no excuse for correction officers to violate the law,” Acting U.S. Attorney Patrick C. Harris said. “Correction officers who violate the civil rights of others can expect to, and will be, prosecuted.”
“We at the FBI continue to be appalled at what occurred to these minors,” stated Special Agent in Charge Diane Upchurch with the Little Rock FBI Field Office. “Along with our partners at the Justice Department, we are steadfast in our commitment to investigate and punish those responsible for these reprehensible actions.”
In addition to the conspiracy, Ray is charged in Count Two with participating in the November 6, 2013, assault of a fourteen-year-old boy who had been lying asleep on his bunk. According to the indictment, Ray grabbed the boy from his bunk and held him so that another officer could spray the boy in the face with pepper spray.
Farris, in addition to the conspiracy, is charged in Count Three with assaulting a seventeen-year-old juvenile on November 21, 2013, by pepper spraying him in the face.
Counts Four through Seven of the Indictment charge Benton with two assaults and with falsifying incident reports related to those assaults. According to the Indictment, on June 6, 2012, Benton assaulted a sixteen-year-old juvenile by grabbing, shoving, and choking him. The indictment also charges that, on May 19, 2013, Benton assaulted a fifteen-year-old juvenile by pepper spraying him in the face. According to the indictment, none of the juveniles posed a physical threat to anyone nor physically resisted in any way at the times they were assaulted by the officers.
Two former White River Juvenile Detention Center supervisors, Captain Peggy Kendrick, 43, and Lieutenant Dennis Fuller, 40, pleaded guilty on April 26, 2016, in federal court before U.S. District Judge James M. Moody Jr. to conspiring to assault juvenile inmates. Kendrick also pleaded guilty to assaulting a sixteen-year-old girl using pepper spray and to obstructing justice by falsifying an incident report about that assault. The court will set a sentencing hearing date for Kendrick and Fuller after Presentence Investigation Reports are completed.
The maximum potential penalty for a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 241 (Conspiracy Against Rights) is up to ten years imprisonment, up to three years of supervised release, and up to a $250,000 fine. The maximum potential penalty for a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242 (Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law) is up to ten years imprisonment, up to three years of supervised release, and up to a $250,000 fine. The maximum potential penalty for a violation of 18 U.S.C. 1519 (Falsification of Records in Federal Investigations) is up to twenty years imprisonment, up to three years of supervised release, and up to a $250,000 fine. Accordingly, Kendrick faces a statutory maximum sentence of 40 years in prison and Fuller faces a statutory maximum sentence of ten years in prison.
This case is being investigated by the FBI’s Little Rock Field Division and the investigation is ongoing. 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.
An indictment contains only allegations. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.