Six West Virginia jail employees charged in relation to the death of inmate

Five former correctional officers in West Virginia have been indicted by a federal grand jury on Thursday for their involvement in the death of an incarcerated man in 2022. The man was brutally beaten while handcuffed and restrained in an interview room and later in a jail cell.

The U.S. Justice Department has filed charges against all five officers involved, including a former lieutenant, for attempting to conceal their actions.

In recent weeks, two West Virginia corrections officers have pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy charge related to the tragic death of Quantez Burks, a 37-year-old inmate. These indictments in West Virginia’s southern U.S. District Court further highlight the severity of the incident.

Burks, who had been charged with wanton endangerment, was a pretrial detainee at the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver. Shockingly, he passed away within a mere 24 hours of being booked into the facility in March 2022.

The conditions and deaths at the Southern Regional Jail have come under scrutiny due to a recent case. In response to a class-action lawsuit filed by inmates, West Virginia has agreed to pay $4 million as a settlement. The inmates described the conditions at the jail as inhumane, citing issues such as a lack of access to water and food, overcrowding, and fights that were allowed to persist until someone was injured.

The administration of Gov. Jim Justice took action and terminated former Executive Officer Brad Douglas of the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, as well as Chief Counsel Phil Sword of Homeland Security. This decision came after a federal magistrate judge highlighted the deliberate destruction of records and recommended a default judgment in the lawsuit. During a hearing in early October, both former and current corrections officials, including some defendants in the lawsuit, acknowledged that no measures were taken to preserve evidence at the jail, such as emails and documents.

The indictment, which was presented on Thursday, accuses three former correctional officers from Southern Regional Jail – Mark Holdren (39), Cory Snyder (29), and Johnathan Walters (35) – of conspiring with their fellow officers to unlawfully retaliate against Burks by physically assaulting him.

According to court documents, Burks attempted to push past an officer in order to exit his housing unit. Subsequently, he was escorted to an interview room where correctional officers allegedly struck him while he was restrained and handcuffed. Afterwards, Burks was forcibly relocated to a prison cell in a different housing unit, where he was subjected to another assault.

Former officers Andrew Fleshman and Steven Wimmer have pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy charge related to the fatal beating. Their sentencing is scheduled for February 22.

On Thursday, two additional ex-corrections officers were charged for their failure to intervene in the illegal assault that led to Burks’ tragic death. In addition to these two individuals, all five officers involved, including a former lieutenant, face charges of concealing the use of unlawful force. This was done through the deliberate omission of crucial information and the provision of false and misleading details to investigators.

The state corrections agency was contacted by The Associated Press for comment on Thursday, but a response was not received immediately. The contact information for the indicted officers was also not immediately available.

According to the indictment, Walters, Holdren, and another officer are accused of submitting incident reports that contained false and misleading information. Additionally, Holdren, Snyder, and two other officers are charged with making false statements to the FBI.

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