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Two more former Roxbury officers plead guilty in 2008 assault on inmate

April 05, 2013

Two more former correctional officers at Roxbury Correctional Institution south of Hagerstown have pleaded guilty in connection with an assault on an inmate at the prison in March 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The pleas of Lanny Harris, a former correctional sergeant, and former correctional officer Walter Steele bring to five the number of former RCI correctional officers who have pleaded guilty in connection with the 2008 beating of an inmate at RCI, and 10 others face charges in the assault, according to a news release from the Justice Department.

Harris pleaded guilty to conspiring with other RCI officers to assault an inmate at the state prison on March 9, 2008, the Justice Department said.

Steele pleaded guilty to conspiring with RCI officers to obstruct the investigation into the assault against the inmate on that same date and to making a false statement to an FBI agent investigating the assault, according to the FBI.

“Mr. Harris admitted today that, as a supervisor, he conspired with other officers to assault an inmate in order to punish the inmate for hitting an officer,” Roy L. Austin Jr., deputy assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights division of the Department of Justice, said in the release. “Mr. Steele, meanwhile, has admitted that after he watched his fellow correctional officers use force to punish the inmate, he then agreed to help those officers cover up their misconduct.”

Court documents filed in connection with Harris’ guilty plea state that he and other officers met at RCI during the midnight shift on March 8-9 and agreed to assault an inmate known as K.D. in retaliation for a prior incident involving the inmate and another officer.

The inmate who was beaten in the RCI incident was identified in Herald-Mail accounts at the time as Kenneth Davis.

Davis was beaten in four different attacks over three consecutive eight-hour shifts, according to allegations in documents from Washington County Circuit Court shortly afterward. Davis was injured so badly that he was unrecognizable and spent four days in then-Washington County Hospital, according to the Washington County documents.

The Justice Department release alleges that Harris admitted to entering the cell with three other officers to assault the inmate while a fourth officer watched. As officers assaulted the inmate, Steele watched, the release said.

According to court documents filed in connection with his guilty plea, Steele admitted he heard RCI officers discuss assaulting the inmate, then warned the group that they would get caught. The FBI said Steele later learned that officers from the midnight shift were meeting at a fast-food restaurant to talk about the assault.

The Department of Justice said Steele acknowledged meeting Harris and other RCI officers who had been involved in the assault. During that meeting, they discussed what they were going to say to investigators. Steele agreed to tell investigators that he didn’t know about the assault, according to the release.

Steele admitted in court that he lied to federal investigators on Feb. 12 by falsely denying that he had discussed the assault with other RCI officers, according to the release. The FBI said Steele also acknowledged that he failed to tell federal investigators that he was a witness to the assault.

Steele, who is to be sentenced July 9, faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, the release said.

Harris faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison. He is to be sentenced Aug. 2.

The investigation by the Frederick Resident Agency of the FBI is ongoing, the release said. The case is being prosecuted by attorneys with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.

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