Opening statements in the federal trial of two former juvenile detention center officers accused of violating the civil rights of teenagers they oversaw in Batesville are set to begin at 9:15 a.m. today in the Little Rock courtroom of U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson.
On Monday afternoon, attorneys seated a jury of nine men and one woman, all from the Batesville division of the Eastern District of Arkansas, to hear the case against Will Ray, 27, and Thomas Farris, 48, each of whom face two charges. The trial is expected to last about a week.
Ray and Farris are jointly charged with conspiring to violate the civil rights of juveniles at the White River Juvenile Detention Center between June 2012 and July 2014. Each man is also charged with one count of aiding and abetting the commission of a civil rights violation.
Ray's individual charge accuses him of helping Lt. Dennis Fuller assault a 14-year-old boy known as G.D., who was heavily medicated and had fallen asleep in his cell. Prosecutors say the assault occurred on Nov. 6, 2013, when Ray walked into the boy's cell as he slept and sat on his bunk, waking him, then grabbed him and turned him toward the lieutenant, holding him while Fuller sprayed him directly in the face with pepper spray. The boy dropped to the floor as Fuller sprayed him a second time, according to prosecutors, who said that Farris and a fourth officer were also in the boy's cell at the time.
Fuller, 41, pleaded guilty to a civil rights conspiracy charge in April 2017, admitting to pepper-spraying the boy and then letting him "cook," instead of immediately decontaminating him, and then falsifying a report to say that the boy was sprayed because he fought Ray. Fuller is expected to testify.
Farris is accused of helping assault another detainee known as J.H., who was 17 years old, on Nov. 21, 2013, by spraying him in the face with pepper spray while the boy leaned up against his bunk on the back wall of his cell. Prosecutors say Farris and Ray took the boy to the ground and left him in the cell to "cook" for two minutes.
The men's captain, Peggy Kendrick, also pleaded guilty in April 2017 to charges of civil rights conspiracy, depriving inmates of their constitutional rights and obstructing justice. She is also expected to testify about several matters, including that she falsified a report about the spraying of J.H., which she witnessed, to say that he "took an aggressive stance" and refused to follow an instruction.
According to the government's trial brief, Ray, Farris, Fuller, Kendrick and Jason Benton, 43, another former guard who has pleaded guilty to depriving a 15-year-old boy of his rights by pepper-spraying him without cause, conspired to punish juveniles at White River by pepper-spraying them when they weren't physically resisting or posing any threat.
The burning sensation from the spray can linger for up to 40 minutes, and officers were taught to minimize its effect by escorting juveniles to a shower to decontaminate themselves as soon as they stopped resisting, according to the brief by attorney Samantha Trepel of the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division.
"The co-conspirators also punished juveniles by taunting and threatening them, placing them on lock-down in their cells for minor infractions," and placing them in a cell that became extremely cold in the winter and hot in the summer, or placing them in a restraint chair for long periods without justification, Trepel wrote.
The facility, operated by Independence County, holds up to 75 youths between the ages of five and 21 who have been charged or adjudicated delinquent or are from "families in need of service," who haven't necessarily been accused of committing any crime.
Defense attorneys indicated during jury selection that they will focus on the defendants' perceived need to maintain order and their lack of experience, which caused them to act at the direction of their supervisors.
Ray is being represented by attorneys Bill Bristow of Jonesboro and Barrett Moore of Batesville. Farris is being represented by attorney Nicki Nicolo of North Little Rock.
Metro on 12/11/2018
Print Headline: Trial begins for 2 guards accused of violating teens' rights