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Tenth Circuit Upholds BOP Guard’s Abuse Convictions

Tenth Circuit Upholds BOP Guard's Abuse Convictions

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions and sentences of three former prison guards for beating prisoners at the United States Penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, (USP-Florence).

As we've previously reported, in 1997, the Government began a three-year investigation into allegations of widespread prisoner abuse and falsification of records to cover up the abuse at USP-Florence.

Ten Bureau of Prisons (BOP) guards were charged criminally in connection with the investigation. Three pled guilty and agreed to testify against the others. All seven were named in a ten count superseding indictment. Count one charged all seven "in a vast conspiracy of abuse and cover-up," in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 241. "The remaining nine counts charged certain defendants with excessive force against individually named" prisoners in violation of the Eighth Amendment and 18 U.S.C. § 242.

"At trial, the Government sought to establish a vast conspiracy to abuse inmates. Throughout trial, the Government maintained a 'green light' theory in which it alleged the Captain Terry Hines had given the defendants the 'green light to take care of business' with certain Security Housing Unity (SHU) prisoners 'who were aggressive toward' staff." Guards "testified that they understood this to mean that they were to abuse inmates to let them know that aggression against prison staff would not be tolerated." Several guards "created an atmosphere that not only tolerated abuse?, but encouraged it."

Following eight weeks of testimony and two weeks of jury deliberations, former guards Mike LaVallee, Rod Schultz and Robert Verbickas were found guilty. The other four defendants were acquitted on all counts. Schultz and Lavallee were sentenced to 41 months in prison and Verbickas was sentenced to 30 months, imprisonement.

Lavallee, Schultz and Verbickas appealed their convictions and sentences, asserting numerous joint and individual claims of error. The Government cross-appealed the guards' sentences, asserting that the district court improperly granted downward departure sentences. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals consolidated the cases and affirmed on all grounds. No supervisory officials of the BOP were ever charged or disciplined in the case nor were any ever questioned as to why the abuse continued for years. See: United States v. Lavallee, 439 F.3d 670 (10th Cir 2006).

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Related legal case

United States v. Lavallee