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Oklahoma Jail Guard Gets 46 Months for Setting Up White Supremacist Attack on Black Detainees

by David M. Reutter

On December 6, 2022, a former guard at Oklahoma’s Kay County Detention Center was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison for violating the civil rights of detainees. Former Lt. Matthew Ware, 53, was convicted on three charges by a jury in the federal court for the Western District of Oklahoma on April 14, 2022. Two counts were related to putting Black detainees in danger by subjecting them to assault from fellow detainees who were white supremacists. The third count was for depriving a detainee of the right to be free from excessive force.

On May 18, 2017, Ware ordered underlings at the jail to move pretrial detainees D’Angelo Wilson and Marcus Miller to an area with avowed white supremacist detainees. Both Wilson and Miller are Black, and Ware knew the move placed them in danger of assault. To make sure, he later that day ordered fellow guards to open the doors of Wilson and Miller’s cells. At the same time, the white supremacist detainees then rushed inside and attacked the two. Both Wilson and Miller were injured in the attack, with Wilson requiring seven stitches to close a cut on his face.

That wasn’t Ware’s only abuse of his power. The jury also found that on January 31, 2018, while Ware served as the jail’s acting captain, he ordered a fellow guard to place detainee Christopher Davis in a cruciform position. Davis had earlier sent a note criticizing how Ware ran the jail, so this was his punishment. The second guard was instructed to restrain Davis’ wrists to the far sides of a bench, stretching his arms painfully. Davis was then left in this position for 90 minutes, resulting in physical injury.

All three counts of deprivation of rights under the color of law were handed down in a November 2021 indictment. U.S. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who heads the federal Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, called Ware a “high-ranking corrections official [who] had a duty to ensure that the civil rights of pretrial detainees in his custody were not violated.”

 “The defendant abused his power and authority by ordering subordinate [guards] to violate the constitutional rights of several pretrial detainees,” she said. See: United States v. Ware, USDC (W.D. Okla.), Case No. 5:21-cr-00323.

The jail’s compliance officer, Stephanie Wright, blew the whistle on Ware’s abuse. When she was fired, Wright filed suit in the same court against her former employer, alleging a violation of her First Amendment free-speech rights. The district court, however, said it must take “a broad view when examining whether speech was pursuant to official duties.” Since Wright was at work and doing her job when she made her report to the State Bureau of Investigation, hers was not constitutionally protected speech. So Defendants were granted summary judgment on January 21, 2021. See: Wright v. Kay Cty. Justice Facilities Auth., 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11199 (W.D. Okla.).

Wright filed an appeal that same day with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which heard arguments in November 2021. A final decision is still pending, and PLN will update developments as they are available. See: Wright v. Kay Cty. Justice Facilities, USCA (10th Cir.), Case No. 21-6009. 

Additional sources: KOKH, Kansas City Star, Oklahoman

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