Walter Scott Steele, a former correctional officer at Roxbury Correctional Institution (RCI), and Lanny Harris, a former correction sergeant at RCI in Hagerstown, Md., pleaded guilty today in relation to assaults against an inmate on March 9, 2008. Harris pleaded guilty to conspiring with other RCI officers to assault an inmate at the state prison on March 9, 2008. Steele pleaded guilty to conspiring with RCI officers to obstruct the investigation into an assault against an inmate on March 9, 2008, and to making a false statement to an FBI agent investigating the assault. With these pleas, five former RCI correctional officers have pleaded guilty and 10 others face charges.
According to court documents filed in connection with his guilty plea, Steele admitted that, during the midnight shift on March 8-9, 2008, he heard RCI officers discuss assaulting the inmate, identified in court documents only as “K.D.,” in retaliation for K.D.’s prior assault of another officer. Steele warned the group that they would get caught if they assaulted the inmate.
Additionally, according to court documents filed in connection with his guilty plea, Harris and other officers met at RCI during the midnight shift and agreed to assault K.D. in retaliation for a prior incident involving the inmate and another officer. Harris admitted that he and three other correctional officers then entered K.D.’s cell in order to assault inmate K.D., while a fourth officer watched. Officers then assaulted K.D. while Steele watched.
Steele admitted that he later learned that officers from the midnight shift were meeting at a McDonald’s restaurant to talk about the assault on inmate K.D. Steele acknowledged meeting Harris and other RCI officers who had been involved in the assault, and discussing what they were going to say to investigators. Steele agreed to tell investigators that he did not know about an assault on inmate K.D.
Steele admitted in court that he lied to federal investigators on Feb. 12, 2013, by falsely denying that he had discussed K.D. with other RCI officers from the midnight shift. Steele also acknowledged that he failed to tell federal investigators that he had seen other officers assault K.D.
“Mr. Harris admitted today that, as a supervisor, he conspired with other officers to assault an inmate in order to punish the inmate for hitting an officer. Mr. Steele, meanwhile, has admitted that, after he watched his fellow correctional officers use force to punish the inmate, he then agreed to help those officers cover up their misconduct,” said Roy L. Austin Jr., Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously prosecute officers who use their official position to abuse inmates or to cover up crimes committed by other officers.”
Steele faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Harris faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Sentencing for Steele is set for July 9, 2013, and sentencing for Harris is set for Aug. 2, 2013, both before U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar.
The investigation by the Frederick Resident Agency of the FBI is ongoing. The case is being prosecuted by Special Litigation Counsel Forrest Christian and Trial Attorney Sanjay Patel of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, with the assistance of Michael Cunningham of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland.