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Two BOP Guards, One Beaten Prisoner: One Guilty Plea, One Acquittal

Disparate outcomes resulting from charges brought against two federal prison guards accused of assaulting a prisoner reveal the public’s lackluster attitude toward such abuse. The charges stemmed from the Sept. 29, 2004 beating of prisoner John Clark, who was incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Greenville, Illinois.

A federal grand jury indicted Bureau of Prisons (BOP) guards Daniel Gordon and Eric Newsome in July 2006 for con-spiring to violate Clark’s civil rights and filing false reports. Newsome was also charged with lying to federal investigators.

According to the indictment, Newsome and an unindicted co-conspirator positioned their bodies to block the view of Clark’s cell. Gordon pretended to handcuff Clark through the cell door’s food slot, but deliberately dropped the cuffs in the cell. After the cell door was opened, Newsome, with some assistance from Gordon, hit Clark repeatedly with his fists and handcuffs, landing “an additional unjustified blow” after Clark was restrained. Knowing that Clark was injured and bleed-ing, Newsome and Gordon then left him handcuffed on the cell floor.

There was no indication as to what prompted the assault, though Clark had previously flooded his cell and reportedly had mental health problems.

Gordon agreed to plead guilty to one count of falsifying records on July 23, 2007. Newsome went to trial, and on July 26, 2007 a federal jury cleared him of all charges. Gordon was sentenced in December 2007 to five years pro-bation, 100 hours of community service and a $1,000 fine. See: United States v. Gordon, U.S.D.C. SD Ill., Case No. 3:06-cr-30096-MJR.

Despite his acquittal, on October 26, 2007 the BOP sent Newsome a termination letter. The letter, from the warden at FCI Greenville, who had reviewed witness statements and video footage of the incident, stated “I have completely lost confidence in your ability to perform your duties as a Federal law enforcement officer. I do not believe that you can be en-trusted with the safety and security of inmates confined to the custody of the Bureau of Prisons. Nor do I believe you can be entrusted with the safety and security of staff.” Newsome’s termination was effective immediately; he has since ap-pealed and an arbitration hearing was scheduled for July 23, 2008.

This case is just one of many reported by PLN where a jury has found a prison guard not culpable in the beating (or even murder) of a prisoner, despite evidence that such misconduct in fact occurred. The other side of jury nullification.

Sources: Associated Press,

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Related legal case

United States v. Gordon