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Virginia Federal Court Sentences Former Superintendent of Rockbridge County Jail to 51 Months in Prison for Brutality and Corruption

In May 2021, the former supervisor of Virginia’s Rockbridge County Regional Jail was sentenced to 51 months in federal prison after he was convicted for violating the civil rights of prisoners and public corruption.

Following a six-day federal bench trial in 2020, John Marshall Higgins, 62, was convicted on three counts of deprivation of civil rights for denying a prisoner medical care and failing to protect two prisoners from physical abuse, one count of conspiracy to commit mail and honest services fraud and two counts of mail and honest services fraud for accepting things of value in exchange for official acts.

Evidence at the trial showed Higgins was aware that a prisoner was being assaulted by other prisoners and not only failed to protect the prisoner from assault but also refused to allow the seriously injured prisoner medical care. The prisoner only received medical care after other staff members had him transported to the hospital in defiance of the supervisor’s wishes.

In a related charge that resulted from the same investigation, the former head nurse at the jail, Gary Andrew Hassler, was convicted of impeding a federal investigation by falsifying a document to show the prisoner refused medical care. Following his 2020 jury trial, he was sentenced to imprisonment for twelve months and a day.

Higgins also accepted at least $3,000 and other valuable items which a prisoner’s family members paid to a scholarship fund operated by Higgins family in exchange for favorable treatment for the prisoner. The favorable treatment included unsupervised contact visits with friends and family both at the jail and at a nearby farm, deliveries of ice cream by Higgins, unfettered access to the jail and the supervisor’s personal office, and a retainer so that the prisoner could serve his entire three-year sentence at the jail. The FBI and Virginia State Police investigated the case.

“In his official capacity, Mr. Higgins turned a blind-eye to the medical needs and security of inmates while profiting personally by helping another. A clear abuse of his position, and catalyst for mistrust in law enforcement—which cannot and should not be tolerated,” said Stanley M. Meador, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Richmond Division. Higgins has appealed his conviction and sentence. See: United States v. Higgins, USDC, WD VA, Case Number 6:18-CR-00010-NKM. 



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Related legal case

United States v. Higgins