Former jailers at youth lockup cleared of all charges
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Two former guards at an Arkansas juvenile facility have been acquitted on charges related to pepper-spraying juvenile detainees.
Will Ray, 27, and Thomas Farris, 48, were cleared by a federal jury on Tuesday following a trial in Little Rock. Both men were accused of unlawful use of force stemming from incidents that occurred between June 2012 and July 2014, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported .
The men were charged with depriving detainees of their constitutional rights to due process, cruel and unusual punishment, and violating an inmate’s civil rights. The case was filed by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division in 2017, after two of the men’s supervisors pleaded guilty to civil rights violations.
The alleged violations occurred at a juvenile detention facility in Batesville, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) north of Little Rock. The facility houses youths between the ages of 5 and 21 who have either been deemed delinquent or are being held because of problems at home. According to testimony in the case, four to five guards were usually on duty for a population of about 50 each shift.
Ray and Farris said they followed the orders of Capt. Peggy Kendrick, who ran the facility, and Lt. Dennis Fuller, who supervised the jailers. Ray testified that guards were repeatedly told that if they didn’t operate a tight ship, a small incident could quickly escalate.
Prosecutors focused on the guards’ use of pepper spray, saying they were too compliant to Kendrick’s edicts, which were motivated by negative feeling toward a particular detainee.
Bill Bristow, one of Ray’s attorneys, praised the jury’s decision.
“The government had a theory, and if you bought their theory, you would convict the guards,” Bristow said. “If you understood what we were saying, I feel like you would have to come back on the side of the guards.”
The supervisors are awaiting sentencing before a different judge.
Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com