Ex-Arkansas juvenile detention officers admit conspiring to assault youth inmates; FBI 'appalled' by actions

Two former juvenile detention officers at an Arkansas facility have admitted to conspiring to assault youth inmates in crimes the FBI called appalling.

Former White River Juvenile Detention Center supervisors Capt. Peggy Kendrick, 43, and Lt. Dennis Fuller, 40, entered guilty pleas Wednesday in U.S. District Court.

Kendrick, Fuller and others at the Batesville facility used pepper spray on juvenile detainees who posed no threat, according to a news release from Patrick C. Harris, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

"In some instances, they then shut the compliant juveniles in their cells after pepper spraying them to 'let them cook,' rather than immediately decontaminating them," the release said. "Kendrick also encouraged the juvenile detention officers, who unjustifiably assaulted juveniles, to falsify their incident reports to cover up the assaults."

In an appearance before U.S. District Judge James M. Moody Jr., Fuller and Kendrick each pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiring to assault juvenile inmates. Kendrick also pleaded guilty to charges tied to her pepper-spraying a 16-year-old girl and falsifying a report about the assault, the release said.

The FBI in Little Rock is continuing to investigate the case, authorities said. Diane Upchurch, special agent in charge of the Little Rock office, said the agency is "appalled at what occurred to these minors."

“Along with our partners at the Justice Department, we are steadfast in our commitment to investigate and punish those responsible for these incomprehensible actions,” she said.

Sentencing hearings have not yet been set. Kendrick faces up to 40 years in prison while Fuller faces up to 10 years in prison.

Reporting by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 2014 led state officials to remove teenagers in state custody from two county-run youth lockups where allegations of abuse arose, one of them the White River Juvenile Detention Center. In a January 2015 report on the removal of 14 teens from the Independence County facility because of allegations that youth had been improperly restrained, county Judge Robert Griffin said he had asked the FBI to investigate other possible violations.

Read Thursday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.