Two more Tennessee correctional officers were indicted Thursday on federal civil rights, conspiracy, and obstruction offenses charges after assaulting a mentally ill inmate and attempting to cover-up their illicit actions. A corporal was charged with obstructing justice by encouraging correctional officers to provide false and misleading information about the circumstances surrounding the injuries.
On February 1, Carl Spurlin Jr., Tanner Penwell, Nathaniel Griffin, Jonathan York, and Corporal Tommy Morris at the Northwest County Correctional Complex in Tiptonville, Tennessee, entered the cell of R.T., an inmate in the mental health unit. Labeled as a suicide risk, R.T. was reportedly already bleeding before the five correctional officers entered his cell.
After R.T. swung his bloody hand towards the officers nearest him, flinging blood in their direction, York ordered Spurlin to “violate the camera.” Spurlin initially hesitated before deciding to cover the surveillance camera with his hand.
With Spurlin blocking the camera, York allegedly struck R.T. more than 20 times. Penwell later admitted to punching R.T. several times in the head after York ordered Penwell to “get him.”
Throughout the time he was being punched by the correctional officers, R.T. sat on the bench in the cell and only used his arms to cover his face in an attempt to protect his head from the correctional officers’ punches. According to the Justice Department, at no point did R.T. attempt to fight back.
Griffin recalled Corporal Morris handing him paper towels and wetting them in the sink before giving them to Spurlin. Spurlin used the wet paper towels to continue covering up the camera.
After York and Penwell stopped hitting R.T., the inmate suddenly spat blood on Griffin’s chest and arm. In retaliation, Griffin repeatedly punched R.T. before leaving the cell.
Outside of the cell, their supervisor allegedly ordered the correctional officers to falsely report that R.T. had injured himself on suicide watch in the mental health unit.
On August 15, Griffin pleaded guilty to using unlawful force on an inmate. He faces up to 10 years in federal prison.
In September, Penwell pleaded guilty to using unlawful force on an inmate. He also faces up to 10 years in prison.
In October, Spurlin pleaded guilty to knowing of a federal felony, failing to notify authorities of the felony, and taking an affirmative step to conceal the felony. He faces up to three years in federal prison.
On Thursday, York and Morris were charged with federal civil rights, conspiracy, and obstruction offenses. They face statutory maximum sentences of 10 years for the civil rights count, five years for the conspiracy charge, and 20 years for each obstruction count.
“Correctional officers must abide by and adhere to the same laws they take an oath to uphold and enforce,” U.S. Attorney D. Michael Dunavant stated in a news release.
Spurlin is currently scheduled to be sentenced on January 15, 2020. Griffin will be sentenced on January 16. Penwell’s sentencing is currently scheduled for February 6.