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A federal judge has rejected a request to move a jury trial for two former juvenile detention center officers in Batesville from Little Rock to northeast Arkansas.

"Because of the late request -- three weeks before trial -- I have been unable to acquire a courtroom in either Cleburne County or Independence County," U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson said in an order filed Tuesday.

However, Wilson said, when the jury trial begins at 1 p.m. Dec. 10 in his Little Rock courtroom, the jury will be drawn from a pool of jurors living in the Northern Division of the Eastern District of Arkansas, which includes Batesville. The trial was previously scheduled to begin Dec. 11.

Attorneys for Will Ray and Thomas Farris, former jailers at the White River Detention Center, had sought a change of venue for the convenience of the parties and most of the witnesses, who live in the Batesville area. Because the Eastern District is headquartered in Little Rock, most criminal cases that originate in the district are tried in Little Rock.

Ray, 27, and Farris, 48, are accused of conspiring between 2012 and 2014 to violate the civil rights of teenagers housed at the facility by physically abusing them.

Another former juvenile detention officer, Jason Benton, 43, pleaded guilty in April, admitting that in 2013 he deprived a 15-year-old prisoner of his civil rights by pepper-spraying him in the face without cause and then tackling him, and then falsified a report on the incident to hide his crime. He is awaiting sentencing.

The men's captain, Peggy Kendrick, 44, and one of her lieutenants, Dennis R. Fuller Jr., 41, pleaded guilty April 26 to charges of conspiring to violate the inmates' civil rights -- particularly, their rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, and their rights to due process. They are also awaiting sentencing.

Kendrick admitted pepper-spraying a 16-year-old girl who was standing in a corner of her cell in a nonthreatening manner. She also admitted that she punished inmates by placing them on lockdown in their cells for minor infractions and placing them in a cell that was extremely cold in the winter and very hot in the summer.

Fuller admitted waking a 14-year-old boy who had been asleep in his cell to pepper-spray him in the face and then letting him "cook," by making him stay in the cell instead of being allowed to wash off the pepper spray.

In his order Tuesday, Wilson also denied motions to dismiss charges against Ray and Farris. He did not elaborate.

In a new motion filed Tuesday, Ray's attorneys, Bill Bristow of Jonesboro and Barrett Moore of Batesville, asked that federal prosecutors be "precluded from injecting race into this case in any form or fashion," including by using any of "a number of stray racist remarks" noted in the case file, including remarks that were "written by inmates themselves, recited by officers when reporting on inmate conduct," or came from others who aren't defendants in this case.

He also asked Wilson to prevent prosecutors from using employee grievance forms against Ray. Bristow said one officer complained in 2013 about Ray's "stray gender comments and a few casual interactions between them," and another officer complained about a comment Ray made to her in 2014.

Bristow also cited other "stray gender references," including a third female officer's claims that she and Ray had "an interaction in a freezer," and another person's suggestion that Ray flirted with certain inmates. Both are irrelevant, he said.

Similarly, Bristow objected to prosecutors introducing testimony about the quality of the food at the facility, forced inmate haircuts, references to sexual contact among inmates, references to temperature complaints and references to crowding, among other things.

Metro on 11/29/2018

Print Headline: Judge rejects bid to move youth-center jailers' trial to state's northeast

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