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Kentucky Jail Guards’ Convictions Affirmed in Sexual Abuse of Young Prisoner

by David M. Reutter

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the convictions and prison sentences of two guards who were found guilty of violating a prisoner’s civil rights. The guards’ actions resulted in the sexual assault of an 18-year-old prisoner.

When J.S. was arrested for speeding and eluding police on February 14, 2003, he was taken to Kentucky’s Grant County Detention Center. At the time, J.S. was 18 years old, six feet tall and weighed 125 pounds. He had blonde highlights in his hair, wore a bright shirt and had heart shapes on his underwear. Sgt. Shawn Sydnor described J.S. as a “scared little kid” who was “sissy looking.”

His clothing and looks caused guards to tease him about being cute, and one said he would make “a good girlfriend for the inmates.” Sgt. Sydnor told guards Wesley Lanham and Shawn Freeman that J.S. “needed to be scared.”

To do so, Sydnor said J.S. should be placed in a general population cell. Lanaham stated he “knew a guy, down in 26 Hall,” which was known as the “hallway from hell.” It housed prisoners convicted of misdemeanors and felonies.

Detention center staff were aware of 26 Hallway’s violent reputation. Sydnor testified that he knew of instances of prisoners expressing concern about sexual assault; that sexually predatory behavior occurred in the prison; and that 26 Hallway had more incidents of sexually predatory conduct than other areas of the facility.

Despite this knowledge, Sydnor informed a female guard who told him not to put J.S. in 26 Hallway “that it was none of her business and that he wore the sergeant’s stripes.” Lanham and Freeman then went to 26 Hallway to talk with prisoner Bobby Wright, telling him they wanted him to “fuck with” J.S.

Once Lanham and Freeman told Sgt. Sydnor that things had been “taken care of,” they took J.S. to 26 Hallway. One of them said, “Here you go boys. I have some fresh meat for you.” J.S. was then pushed into the cell and the door was closed.

He was promptly grabbed by the arm and led to a bed where several prisoners petted him, began taking his clothes off, and slapped him with their flip-flops. His pleas for help were ignored by the guards. J.S. was then taken to the shower where hot water was turned on and his head was beaten against the wall. He “felt a strong pain in his buttocks and believed he was being anally raped.”

Eventually, J.S. got out of the shower but fell as he tried to run towards the door. Prisoner Victor Zipp told J.S. he had two choices: “Either get fucked in the ass or suck my dick.” When J.S. refused either choice, another prisoner punched him in the back of the head. Zipp then grabbed J.S by the hair and forced his penis into J.S.’s mouth. J.S. bit down as hard as he could and Zipp withdrew. Another prisoner hit him in the back of the head again, but he was left alone until he was removed from the cell the next morning. Sydnor, Lanham and Freeman then conspired to create false reports to justify placing J.S. in 26 Hallway.

The three guards were subsequently charged with violating J.S.’s civil rights and making a false entry. Sydnor pleaded guilty to conspiracy, but the indictment was dismissed and he cooperated in the prosecution of Lanham and Freeman, who were later convicted. Lanham was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison and Freeman received a 14-year sentence. The Sixth Circuit affirmed their convictions and sentences on August 24, 2010. See: United States v. Lanham, 617 F.3d 873 (6th Cir. 2010), petition for cert. filed.

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