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Missouri Jail Head Receives Ten-Year Federal Sentence for Assaulting Prisoners

On July 13, 2011, a Missouri federal judge sentenced a former chief jailer to ten years in prison for violating the civil rights of prisoners and lying to the FBI. The jailer's daughter, a deputy sheriff, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice charges and was sentenced to probation.

Vernon Wilson, 57, was the deputy sheriff in charge of the Washington County Jail in Potosi, Missouri in 2005 when he committed the civil rights violations by assaulting two prisoners and arranging for two other prisoners to be assaulted by a violent prisoner.

Wilson personally slapped two of the prisoners hard enough to slam their heads into a concrete wall. One of those prisoners is the son of a deputy sheriff who was being held at the jail at his mother's request to dampen his unruly behavior. The other was a pretrial detainee.

Wilson also had pretrial detainees Jimmy Todd, known as a confrontational and whiny prisoner, and Gary Gieselman, who had argued with Wilson's daughter, deputy sheriff Valeria Wilson Jackson, placed into an area housing known violent prisoner Tommy Mackley in the expectation that Mackley would attack them. They were attacked. Gieselman had teeth knocked out and to be treated at a hospital for a broken jaw and multiple skull fractures near his right eye. Todd suffered only minor injuries. After the assault, prisoners were rewarded with cigarettes.

Wilson's attorney advanced the defensive theory that the prisoners' status made them less entitled to protection. U.S. District Judge Audury Fleissig roundly rejected that argument.

"That's not the law," said Fleissig. "These victims weren't threatening anyone, they weren't harming anyone" and had done nothing "that warranted this type of response." Fleissig told Wilson that the care and safety of the prisoners was his responsibility regardless of the number of prior convictions they have "because they're human beings and these are their rights." Fleissig also rejected Wilson's claim that it was just his theory of prison management that in placing non-violent prisoners with violent prisoners each would balance the other out.

During the sentencing hearing, Wilson forwarded an argument that his unblemished thirty-year law-enforcement career meant that he should receive the lower end of the 97 to 121 month sentencing guideline range. The federal prosecutor argued that he should receive more than the maximum because he abused his position. Fleissig sentenced him to the maximum under the guidelines.

During the trial, Jackson, 26, testified against her father. She pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and was sentenced to probation. Both were ordered to pay Gieselman's medical bills, which exceed $13,000, and may be responsible for additional restitution to Gieselman and Todd.

During the sentencing hearing, Wilson testified that he was proud of his daughter despite her having testified against him. He maintained that his actions had been "grossly overstated" and that he was not the "monster" he had been portrayed to be.


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