For using "sadistic and completely unjustified" actions to punish unruly youths she was employed to protect, a former captain at a Batesville youth lockup was sentenced Thursday to seven years in federal prison -- 13 months more than the highest recommended penalty.
U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. increased the penalty on his own for Peggy Kendrick, 45, who admitted nearly two years ago that she violated the civil rights of youths at the county-run facility by pepper-spraying them for minor infractions and then "letting them cook" with the irritant on their skin in locked cells, and ordering jailers subordinate to her to do the same.
One of her former victims, who was 16 at the time and is now 22, flew into Little Rock from Montana to make a victim-impact statement.
"I was sent there for help," Elizabeth Lollis told the judge. "I was abused at home, I was abused at school."
Then, breaking down in tears while her porcelain complexion turned bright red, the petite blond continued: "I trusted these people. I was hurt. I was scared. I was constantly threatened. All I wanted was help."
Lollis wasn't held at the White River Regional Juvenile Detention Facility for any suspected criminal activity. She was instead being held there on a Family in Need of Services petition, which seeks a temporary protective environment for youths living in challenging home situations.
The facility houses up to 75 youths between the ages of 5 and 21 who have either been adjudicated delinquent or are in state custody on Family in Need of Services petitions.
Lollis said she still has nightmares about Kendrick charging into her cell, confronting her about a profane message she wrote on the wall using toothpaste, and then pepper-spraying her directly in the face and leaving her to "cook." A video-camera in Lollis' cell captured the attack, and prosecutors played it again Thursday at the sentencing hearing.
"I want Peggy to know I forgive her, and forgave her the day I left there," Lollis said from a courtroom lectern, adding that she hopes Kendrick "learns from this."
Kendrick had just spoken from the lectern, asking for "leniency" and saying she was sorry, but "I think a lack of training had a big part in my actions."
Moody asked her why she did it, noting that a subordinate of hers, who later provided the FBI with incriminating evidence, had said at his recent sentencing hearing that he feared he would lose his job unless he followed Kendrick's orders.
"That's just the way I was trained," Kendrick replied.
"By who?" Moody asked.
"The sheriff's office and a prison where I got my pepper-spray training," she replied.
But when Moody asked if her training included filing false reports, claiming that youths were pepper-sprayed only after becoming aggressive, to cover up the fact that the victims were sprayed while doing nothing of a threatening nature, defense attorney Sonia Fonticiella of the federal public defender's office interjected, saying Kendrick was trained to use the spray if a prisoner wasn't following lawful commands.
Fonticiella asked that Moody sentence Kendrick below the 57- to 71-month penalty range recommended by federal sentencing guidelines, arguing that "the way the facility was run created a perfect storm for something like this to happen," and noting that Kendrick now has severe post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and pseudo-seizures.
"She's just not this horrible person that the government has tried to portray her as," Fonticiella said. She reminded the judge that Kendrick pleaded guilty before she could be indicted, and cited other arguments that she said were filed under seal, as well as letters of support she had filed with the court.
Michael Songer, a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, told Moody that a sentence within the guideline range was called for, though perhaps it was "not enough."
"She had a position of substantial power and authority, and she abused it," Songer argued. "She worked in corrections for 15 years and was a captain [at the jail] for five years. She was the top official."
While Fonticiella argued that Kendrick deserved credit for serving in the U.S. Marine Corps and being honorably discharged, Songer said Kendrick's military background only confirmed that "she knew right from wrong." He said she chose to abuse her power by "tormenting" juveniles over whose welfare she had "the ultimate authority," and then tried to cover it up, further demonstrating that "she knew it was wrong."
Fonticiella said Kendrick grew up in a troubled home where her father regularly physically abused her mother and siblings, and once chased her and her mother while shooting at them. The defense attorney said Kendrick's only training for her job at the White River facility was a 40-hour jail training course geared for adults.
Songer said Kendrick not only caused intense physical pain for her victims, but intimidated other jailers by touting her power to hire and fire and to assign favored officers to the sought-after day shift. He said she also harmed the public and law enforcement.
"She eroded that public confidence that's critical to effective law enforcement," he said.
Moody said an "upward variance" from the guideline range was merited because Kendrick pleaded guilty to multiple charges -- conspiracy to violate the rights of detainees, assaulting Lollis on Oct. 14, 2013, and falsifying a report related to Lollis' assault. Other reasons he cited were that she held a position of authority, she betrayed the incarcerated children and the public, and her actions were sadistic and unjustified.
Kendrick began working at the facility in December 1999 and became the administrator in 2010. She was fired in August 2014, as a result of the federal investigation that led to the charges.
"I find it incredible that she thought she was trained to do this," the judge said. He also noted that, unlike the jailers she supervised who said they pepper-sprayed the prisoners out of fear of losing their jobs, Kendrick didn't do it to keep her job.
He also imposed a $5,000 fine and denied a request from Fonticiella to allow Kendrick to self-report to prison after the U.S. Bureau of Prisoners designates a particular facility. Fonticiella cited Kendrick's medical conditions, but Moody ordered her to be taken into custody by U.S. marshals immediately.
Before adjourning, he looked across the courtroom at Lollis, sitting in the front row of the gallery, and said, "Elizabeth, I'm sorry."
Last month, Moody sentenced Kendrick's former top assistant, Dennis Fuller, 41, to three years in prison. Fuller had also pleaded guilty to violating the youths' civil rights but provided detailed information to the FBI and testified against two former jailers, Will Ray and Thomas Farris, who were both acquitted by a federal jury in December. He also was credited by prosecutors with later taking over Kendrick's job and implementing changes to improve conditions for the detainees.
Also last month, U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson sentenced former jailer Jason Benton, 44, to 2½ years in prison. Benton, who pleaded guilty in 2018 to violating the youths' rights and falsifying documents, was accused by other jailers of lashing out in anger at juveniles. Prosecutors said his "uncontrolled anger" constituted a lifelong pattern and that Kendrick rewarded him by placing him on the coveted day shift.
Metro on 04/19/2019
Print Headline: Judge calls former Arkansas youth jailer's actions 'sadistic,' gives her more prison than recommended