Former prison lieutenant sentenced to prison for failing to stop assault against inmate

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms Burks’ behavior and blatant violation of his sworn oath to serve.”

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Image Credit: AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File

Convicted of failing to stop an officer under his command from assaulting an inmate, a former Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) shift commander was recently sentenced to nine years in federal prison. Three other correctional officers have pleaded guilty to their participation in the incident.

On February 16, 2019, ADOC Sergeant Ulysses Oliver Jr. escorted a handcuffed inmate into a hallway at ADOC’s Elmore Correctional Facility before punching, kicking, and beating the first victim approximately 19 times with a collapsible metal baton. Lt. Willie Burks III entered the hallway after Sgt. Oliver had finished beating the first inmate.

After Oliver returned to the observation room, Burks watched Oliver grab a second handcuffed inmate and pull 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. 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.”

When Oliver later turned himself in for using excessive force, his shift commander, ADOC Lt. Burks instructed Oliver to falsely write in his report that Burks had ordered him to stop the attack.

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.

In July 2021, a federal jury convicted Burks of failing to stop an officer under his command from assaulting an inmate. On Friday, he was sentenced to nine years in federal prison followed by two years of supervised release.

“Those working inside our jails and prisons have a duty to intervene in the face of unlawful and violent conduct being carried out by their colleagues,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division stated in a press release. “Under the Constitution, correctional officers may not physically assault inmates for violations of prison rules, and any officials who see this happening must do what they can to stop it. The Department of Justice will vigorously prosecute officers who stand by and do nothing while other officers brutalize inmates in their charge.”

“The job of a correctional officer can be difficult and hazardous,” said U.S. Attorney Sandra Stewart for the Middle District of Alabama. “A vast majority of them serve with honor and are dedicated to upholding their duty to protect and serve. Unfortunately, some choose to ignore their sacred oaths and engage in criminal conduct or turn a blind eye when others do so.”

“The unacceptable actions of Willie Burks in no way reflect the hard and tireless work of our corrections staff, who endeavor each day to provide a safe and rehabilitative environment for all incarcerated people,” asserted Arnaldo Mercado, the ADOC’s Law Enforcement Services Division’s Chief Law Enforcement Officer. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms Burks’ behavior and blatant violation of his sworn oath to serve.”

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