Three former Arkansas juvenile-detention officers were indicted Friday as part of a conspiracy to abuse jailed teenagers, nine days after two administrators pleaded guilty in the same federal case.
Between 2012 and 2014, the two top supervisors and several officers at the White River Juvenile Detention Center assaulted and needlessly punished youths held there, U.S. District Court records show. Falsifying use-of-force documents had become routine.
The conspiracy went even further than the Independence County lockup, Friday's nine-page, seven-count indictment also reveals.
Other Arkansas juvenile-detention facilities sent youths "considered to be problems" to White River, known as a "tough facility" that carried out "promised 'timeouts'" as punishment.
According to the indictment, Will Ray, 26; Thomas Farris, 47; and Jason Benton, 42, worked together to "injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate juveniles."
This meant locking teens in "Max 1," a cell that subjected its occupants to extreme temperatures during summer and winter months.
Or strapping teens to an emergency restraint chair for hours "without justification."
Some were routinely pepper-sprayed, including a 14-year-old asleep in his bunk and a 16-year-old girl housed at the lockup for misbehaving rather than committing any crime.
Pepper-sprayed teens were then shut in their cells without undergoing decontamination -- in order to "let them cook," the indictment says.
In return for carrying out such abuses, officers were "rewarded" with "desirable assignments," the court document states.
The indictment comes after the facility's former captain and lieutenant -- Peggy Kendrick, 43, and Dennis Fuller, 40 -- entered guilty pleas April 26 to conspiracy and civil-rights violations before U.S. District Judge James Moody. They had waived the right to go through a grand jury process.
The initial charging document naming Kendrick and Fuller pointed to four known juvenile officers, listed as "A, B, C and D," who worked in concert with the supervisors.
Friday's indictment repeatedly stated additional "unknown" officers were involved. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office declined to comment on any "grand jury information."
Kendrick faces a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison; Fuller, 10 years. Their sentencings hinge on pre-sentencing investigation reports, which have yet to be filed. On Friday, the U.S. attorney's office could not say when that paperwork would be submitted.
Federal officials "continue to be appalled" as more findings emerge.
"The Justice Department is committed to vigorously investigating and prosecuting officers who break the public trust in this way," acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler said in a press release.
The FBI-led probe into White River is ongoing, but state and county officials took steps to deal with alleged abuses, some of them years ago.
In December 2014, the Arkansas Youth Services Division ceased sending children in state custody to the White River site after learning that center staff members used the emergency restraint chair, handcuffs and 23-hour lockdown as punishment for minor offenses.
The agency vowed it would not send youths back there unless the facility went through "significant changes," a representative of the state Department of Human Services, which oversees the Youth Services Division, said Friday.
Many changes were almost immediate, spokesman Amy Webb said. Kendrick and Fuller were dismissed. New staff members were hired "in an effort to change the culture at the facility," she said.
Agency staff also led training -- such as trauma-informed care or crisis management -- and "provided guidance and monitored the facility as it worked to regain the ability to care for youth," Webb said.
By the summer of 2015, "we felt like they had made significant changes and progress and resumed sending youth there," she said.
Robert Griffin, the county judge for Independence County, also said he now asks for "prosecutorial review" of use-of-force incidents at the detention center and that these case files must include video footage.
The county administrator said that White River's current program created "an environment for the betterment of detainees," by emphasizing character training, education, therapy and after-care.
"Parents can be reassured our facility is a safe environment."
A Section on 05/06/2017
Print Headline: 3 people indicted in abuse at lockup