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Former Deputy Warden Gets Two Years for Assaulting Mississippi Prisoner

by Kevin W. Bliss

On September 2, 2022, the former deputy warden of Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman was sentenced to 24 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for a brutal assault that left a state prisoner with permanent injuries.

Melvin Hilson, 50, was ordered by the federal court for the Northern District of Mississippi to surrender and begin serving his sentence on November 7, 2022. He pleaded guilty on May 26, 2022, to willfully depriving a prisoner of his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Charges of witness tampering and filing a false report had previously been dropped.

Hilson was a guard working with the K-9 unit at Parchman on August 3, 2016, when he got into an altercation with a prisoner, identified in court documents as J.T. The two were inside a caged area near the medical unit, where J.T. was waiting when Hilson approached. The two exchanged words, and Hilson then struck the prisoner, knocking him to the ground.

But the guard wasn’t finished. He picked J.T. up off the ground and knocked him back down again. And again. Hilson repeatedly struck J.T., though the prisoner didn’t fight back, prosecutors said. He suffered a ruptured eardrum from the beating, as well as injuries to his head and neck. He was left suffering prolonged, recurring headaches.

After the incident, Hilson falsified documents to cover up his actions and later lied about it to investigators from the state Department of Corrections (DOC). The case was then picked up by the Civil Rights Division of the federal Department of Justice and the Jackson Division of the FBI. Criminal charges were soon filed, leading to Hilson’s guilty plea.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said, “This defendant abused his position … by unlawfully assaulting an inmate in his custody.” She added that the attack “violated the trust that we place in corrections officials to lawfully carry out their duties.”

U.S. Attorney Clay Joyner said the “prosecution and sentence demonstrate our commitment to ensuring that every person’s civil rights are protected under the Constitution, and corrections officials who abuse their position are not above the law that they have sworn to uphold.” See: United States v. Hilson, USDC (N.D. Miss.), Case No. 4:21-cr-00066. 

Additional sources: Magnolia State Live, U.S. Dept. of Justice

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