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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Tennessee

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Third Former Tennessee Correctional Officer Pleads Guilty Following Assault of Inmate

Memphis, TN – Carl Spurlin Jr., 42, pleaded guilty to a federal offense and admitted concealing other correctional officers’ assault of an inmate while Spurlin was serving as a correctional officer with the Tennessee Department of Corrections.

"The Department of Justice will not tolerate this egregious behavior," said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. "The Civil Rights Division will vigorously prosecute all those who have violated the civil rights of others."

"Correctional officers must abide by and adhere to the same laws they take an oath to uphold and enforce. Instead of serving and protecting the public, this officer actively participated to conceal the use of physical force by other officers to violate the civil rights of an individual. As a result, he will now be held accountable, vividly illustrating that no one is above the law," said U.S. Attorney D. Michael Dunavant for the Western District of Tennessee.

"When correctional officers abuse their authority and harm inmates, it not only violates our civil rights laws, it undermines the criminal justice system as a whole," said M.A. Myers, Special Agent in Charge of the Memphis Field Office of the FBI. "This plea should send a clear message that the FBI takes these allegations seriously, and will vigorously investigate these kinds of cases, and those who violate the public's trust will be held accountable."

With his guilty plea, Spurlin admitted that, on February 1, 2019, he and several other correctional officers at the Northwest County Correctional Complex in Tiptonville, Tennessee, entered the cell of R.T., an inmate in the mental health unit. R.T. had been identified as a suicide risk and he was bleeding when the officers entered his cell. After the correctional officers entered the cell, R.T. swung his bloody hand towards the officers nearest him, flinging blood in their direction.

A correctional officer looked in the direction of the surveillance camera in the cell and said, "violate the camera." When Spurlin did not make a move to do so, the officer repeated the command. Spurlin looked at a supervisory officer standing nearby, and when the supervisory officer did not contradict the officer who had spoken, Spurlin covered the camera with his hand. Spurlin then watched three correctional officers repeatedly punch R.T. in the head and body. According to Spurlin, the officers struck R.T. "like a piñata."

While the three officers repeatedly punched R.T., another correctional officer came to the cell with paper towels. The officer handed wet paper towels to Spurlin and he used them to cover the camera. The assault by the officers continued while Spurlin covered the surveillance camera.

With today’s guilty plea, Spurlin admitted that he violated 18 U.S.C. § 4 by knowing of a federal felony, failing to notify authorities of the felony, and taking an affirmative step to conceal the felony. The maximum penalty for this offense is three years of imprisonment. Sentencing is set for January 15, 2020.

In related cases, former Correctional Officer Nathaniel Griffin entered a guilty plea in federal court on August 15, 2019, and former Correctional Officer Tanner Penwell entered a guilty plea in federal court on September 5, 2019. With their guilty pleas, both defendants admitted that they assaulted R.T. on February 1, 2019.

This case is being investigated by the Memphis Division of the FBI with the support of the Tennessee Department of Corrections, and is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Rebekah J. Bailey of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and Assistant United States Attorney David Pritchard of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee.

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Contact: 
Cherri Green Contact Public Affairs (901) 544-4231 Cherri.Green@usdoj.gov
Updated October 2, 2019