The Justice Department announced that Mississippi corrections officer, Lawardrick Marsher, pleaded guilty today in federal court to beating an inmate in Mississippi’s Parchman prison. A second officer, Robert Sturdivant, pleaded guilty to helping conceal the beating of the inmate.
According to his guilty plea, Marsher, 29, used excessive force in punching and kicking the victim, identified as K.H., who suffered a broken orbital bone, permanent vision loss and severe blood loss. The assault occurred on March 9, 2014. Marsher also admitted to submitting a false report and lying to the FBI. Sturdivant, 47, Marsher’s supervisor, admitted that he also punched and kicked K.H. and urged fellow officers to submit false statements to their department and to lie to the FBI.
“Every American, including those who are incarcerated, is protected by the U.S. Constitution,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “When officers who we expect to uphold those rights willfully violate them, and lie to cover it up, the Justice Department will vigorously enforce the laws prohibiting this misconduct.”
“The defendant abused his authority, violated the law and the public trust,” said U.S. Attorney Felicia C. Adams of the Northern District of Mississippi. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Mississippi is committed to aggressively prosecuting those correctional officers who break the law and violate an individual’s constitutional rights.”
“Occasionally, incarceration can lead to an emotionally charged atmosphere, but we lose credibility and moral authority when prison guards are guilty of violating the civil rights of those they are sworn to protect,” said Special Agent in Charge Christopher Freeze of the FBI Jackson Division. “While incarcerated individuals have relinquished their right to freedom, they have not renounced their civil rights.”
On June 21, 2016, Marsher and Sturdivant were indicted by a grand jury. Two other officers, Deonte Pate, 23, and Romander Nelson, 44, pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the beating. Pate admitted to conspiring to cover up the beating, and Nelson pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failing to protect K.H.
Marsher faces a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in prison; Sturdivant faces a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison. Sentencing for Marsher and Sturdivant is tentatively scheduled for June 9 and 8, respectively. Pate’s sentencing is scheduled for March 16; Nelson’s sentencing is scheduled for April 6.
This case was investigated by the FBI’s Jackson Division, with cooperation from the Mississippi Department of Corrections. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Coleman of the Northern District of Mississippi and Trial Attorneys Rebekah Bailey and Dana Mulhauser of the Civil Rights Division.