On December 13, 2006, Thomas Preston Wills, a former deputy with the Harrison County Sheriff’s Department, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to violate the civil rights of inmates housed at the Harrison County Adult Detention Center in Mississippi. The charge arises from Wills’ employment as a corrections officer at the prison between November 2002 and April 2006.
Those comments were from a Department of Justice News Release which goes on to say:
In documents filed in federal court today, Wills admitted that he and other corrections officers participated in a conspiracy to intentionally use excessive force to punish, intimidate, injure, oppress, threaten and retaliate against inmates at the facility.
In a related case, former deputy Ryan Michael Teel was indicted on charges relating to the circumstances surrounding the death of an inmate who died as a result of injuries sustained at the prison in February 2006. Teel faces a maximum penalty of life in prison on count one of the indictment, and a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on count two. Three other former officers, Dedri Yulon Caldwell, Regina Rhodes and Morgan Thompson, have also previously pleaded guilty to participating in a conspiracy to violate the civil rights of inmates.
Now, in early 2007, Wills turned himself in to federal prison in Minnesota – required to serve a 3 1/2 year prison sentence on the guilty plea he entered a year ago. However, Wills feels that he got the shaft in the whole process. In an article in the Sun Herald Wills stated the following:
“If you follow the rules, you’ll be all right. I followed the rules and look where it got me,” said Wills. According to the article:
The criminal case of civil rights violations began after inmate Jessie Lee Williams Jr. was fatally beaten by officers in the county jail booking room on Feb. 4, 2006.
Wills wasn’t present when the beating occurred, though federal trial attorneys have said a culture of abuse existed at the jail for at least five years and no one spoke up to stop it.
Federal prosecutors took the position that if you witnessed excessive or unjustified force or other violations of a persons civil rights and failed to report it – you’re guilty. Wills said he was surprised when federal prosecutors explained that some of the common practices in the jail were violations of civil rights. Guess Wills didn’t know that even inmates have fundamental civil rights.
Wills, a booking officer for 4½ years, worked at the jail from November 2002 through May 2006. He was accepted for academy training for patrol in September 2005, but that plan was halted after Hurricane Katrina a month earlier.
“I wanted out of there,” he said. “I wanted to be on patrol. My lifelong dream was to be a hero, to put bad guys in jail and protect others.”
Wills said he feels betrayed by federal prosecutors and the Department of Justice, which has monitored jail conditions since 1995.
“When I was called in, I asked if I was a suspect. They said ‘no,’ so I answered all their questions. I cooperated. I made copies of every report and narrative I ever wrote and turned it over to them.”
“Then they threatened to put me in prison for many years if I didn’t plead guilty to whatever they said I did. I’ve got a child. I decided to do it and get it over with.”
The reading of his plea agreement in court listed no specific incident of inmate abuse.
U.S. Probation and Parole officers and prosecutors disagreed on the amount of leniency Wills should receive. Prosecutors wanted less leniency for Wills. He received the second longest prison term of those with plea bargains, including some who admitted they broke an inmate’s jaw or knocked out an inmate’s tooth.
On this, Martin Luther King, Jr. day, it is fitting to know that in America we recognize that even the lowest in society have basic fundamental rights. Having spent time in federal prison, I can say it was no cake walk. I did not enjoy the experience, but am better for it – as today I share that experience with others in hopes that they will learn the value of making right choices. www.chuckgallagher.com Prison is prison – federal or not. But, I have to be honest and say, that while I did not like or respect every guard or prison official, I never witnessed anyone’s civil rights being violated. We were all treated as inmates. The respect we received was in direct perportion to the respect we gave.
While some would consider inmates scum and elect to deny their rights, hats off to the federal prosecutors who would stand up for the basic rights of those who cannot stand up for their own.
The rest of the story:
Nine former Harrison County jailers have begun serving time in the federal prison system for their roles in a conspiracy to deprive the civil rights of inmates.
A 10th ex-jailer, Timothy Moore, was sentenced to four months’ house arrest. The others and where they are by name, age, location and time to serve:
• Ryan Teel: Age 30, Inez, Ky., two life terms plus 20 years.
• Regina Rhodes: Age 30, Danbury, Conn., 18 months.
• Morgan Thompson: Age 30, Elkton, Ohio, 48 months.
• Preston Wills: Age 26, Waseca, Minn., 41 months.
• Daniel Evans: Age 27, Fort Worth, 36 months.
• Brodrick Fulton: Age 27, Milan, Mich., 33 months.
• Dedri Caldwell: Age 46, Carswell/Fort Worth, 24 months.
• Jeffrey Priest: Age 35, Coleman, Fla., 21 months.
• Karle Stolze: Age 39, Miami, 15 months.
- BUREAU OF PRISONS