After witnessing a correctional officer beat two handcuffed inmates without legal justification, a former Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) shift commander was recently convicted of failing to stop an officer under his command from assaulting an inmate. Three other correctional officers have already pleaded guilty to their participation in the incident.
In April 2019, ADOC Sergeant Ulysses Oliver Jr. pleaded guilty in federal court to assaulting two handcuffed inmates at ADOC’s Elmore Correctional Facility in Elmore County, Alabama. According to the guilty plea, Sgt. Oliver escorted a handcuffed inmate into a hallway before punching, kicking, and beating the first victim approximately 19 times with a collapsible metal baton.
After returning to the observation room, Oliver grabbed a second handcuffed inmate and pulled him into the hallway before kicking the second victim and striking him approximately 10 times with the baton. During the assaults, the victims were handcuffed, and were not resisting or posing a threat.
Oliver later shoved the tip of his baton into the face of one of the inmates and lacerated him. When Oliver turned himself in for using excessive force, his shift commander, ADOC Lieutenant Willie Burks instructed Oliver to falsely write in his report that Burks had ordered him to stop the attack.
Rather than intervene, as Lt. Burks had been trained to do, Burks stood silent until the end of the beating, at which time he commented, “That’s fair.”
Former Corrections Officers Briana Mosley and Leon Williams, who were also present during the assault, pleaded guilty for failing to intervene. In September 2019, Burks was charged with failing to stop an officer under his command from assaulting an inmate and making false statements.
After a three-day trial, a federal jury convicted Burks for allowing inmate abuse under his watch as shift commander. He is the fourth correctional officer to be convicted in federal court in connection with this assault.
“The Constitution requires officers to take reasonable steps to stop excessive force when they know of it and have the power to stop it,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Defendant Burks defied the Constitution, and ignored his oath as a law enforcement officer, when he casually watched a handcuffed and defenseless inmate in his custody being assaulted by an officer under his command. We stand ready to hold officers who commit federal civil rights violations inside of jails and prisons accountable for their misconduct.”
“Correctional officers have an incredibly difficult and important job,” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Sandra Stewart for the Middle District of Alabama. “Although a vast majority of them serve with honor, cases like this damage public trust and make the job they do more difficult. When officers abandon their oath to protect and serve, and turn a blind eye to criminal conduct, they must be held accountable.”
“When a law enforcement officer accepts his or her oath of office, they also accept the higher standard they must adhere to,” noted FBI Special Agent in Charge James Jewell of the FBI’s Mobile Division in a press release. “The abuse of prisoners should not, and will not, be tolerated by the men and women of the FBI and their work in this case was exemplary. The cooperation of the multiple agencies involved in this case, and most specifically the Alabama Department of Corrections, is a testament to their dedication to the administration of justice.”
Burks is currently scheduled to be sentenced in November. He faces a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.