Update on Jesse Lee Williams, Jr.

Earlier I linked to Radley Balko’s post on the beating of Jesse Lee Williams, Jr. and his subsequent death at the hands of deputies in Harrison County. Well there has beens some good news on that story.

Regina Lynn Rhodes, 29, faces up to 13 years in a federal prison and a $500,000 fine for violating the civil rights of Jessie Lee Williams Jr. under color of law and withholding information. She will be sentenced Oct. 16 at 9 a.m. by U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr.

Rhodes pleaded guilty Monday, admitting she injured Williams on Feb. 4 with repeated blows to his neck, back and legs while he was restrained in the jail booking room.

Her admission of guilt came through a plea agreement, read in court, which also states she failed to mention the use of unnecessary force in a report the next day and then lied to state and federal investigators during interviews on Feb. 8 and June 19. Rhodes was fired, her resignation effective April 11.

The plea agreement, dated July 26, documents Rhodes’ claim that an unnamed deputy in a supervisory position and other corrections officers “regularly encouraged other corrections officers” to assault inmates “in circumstances that did not justify use of force.” The agreement also claims the jailers “submitted false, incomplete and misleading jail reports” to cover up the incidents and that while Rhodes was aware of their actions, she failed to report them.–Link

Obviously, Regina Rhodes was one of the deputies that beat Mr. Williams to death. Hopefully this will lead to some sort of similar result for Deputy Ryan Teel.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, US Politics,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.

Comments

  1. Gollum says:

    Balko’s initial August 2 post stated:

    So here we are, six months later. A series of reported abuses for which there was no accountability resulted in the beating death of a man booked on misdemeanor charges, for which there is still no accountability.

    Doesn’t Rhodes’ plea agreement obviate this statement? But Balko’s subsequent update doesn’t back away from the initial statement:

    That’s great news. Now it’s time to focus on Deputy Ryan Teel.

    Makes you wonder, though, just how often this kind of thing happens. That someone had to die and federal investigators had to get involved in order for us to see some movement suggests it’s not uncommon.

    I’d never mind this much except that Balko is using Williams’ story as anecdotal support of the failure of “the system.” As he puts it on August 2, “Here’s another one for Justice Scalia’s files.”

    I rather think that at this point Scalia would gladly include this case in his files, as it tends to lend support to the position that existing civil rights laws provide an adequate remedy for police misconduct.

  2. Steve Verdon says:

    I rather think that at this point Scalia would gladly include this case in his files, as it tends to lend support to the position that existing civil rights laws provide an adequate remedy for police misconduct.

    Yep, what great protection that is too. Several people beaten and one in particular beaten to death. You’ll have to pardon me if I don’t think it is enough.

  3. Gollum says:

    Steve, here you said that prosecuting the cops and throwing them in jail would be a good start, and so would having them lose their pension.

    It appears Rhodes will go to jail. It’s a good bet she will lose her pension too, as it appears that Louisiana has some kind of forfeiture law (let’s hope murder qualifies as a trigger). So you’ve got the first two things you suggested.

    What else would you require in this case as a remedy?

  4. John Burgess says:

    I’m really not understanding your point, Steve.

    A law cannot prevent someone from violating it; it only seeks to assure punishment of one who breaks it. The laws against speeding don’t prevent speeding (except on the part of those who fear the consequences). If you speed and if you get caught, then you get punished.

    Similarly, the laws about abuse of authority, about murder, about assault don’t really prevent such actions. They only seek to assure appropriate punishment if the laws are broken.

    This case demonstrates exactly that. It would have been better, obviously, had Williams not been beaten and not died. But since he was and since he did, the only decent thing that can result is punishment of the offender(s).

    I sure don’t want to be punished “just in case” I might speed or might beat someone to death….

  5. Steve Verdon says:

    Gollum,

    Harrison County Mississippi, not Louisiana.

    And, unless I’m mistaken, Rhodes isn’t being convicted of murder.

    Sure, it is a start, but the problem is that we have a police culture of protecting your fellow cops pretty much no matter how rotten. This one instance of catching the rotten cops is good, but what about all the cops and nurses, and so forth who watched these two cops beat this man to death? What about all the other beatings and the cops who ignored/covered up that? While it is a step in the right direction it isn’t enough.

    John,

    Right, no law prevents somebody from breaking it. However, it can provide some level of deterrent. I may want to punch an extremely obnoxious individual in the nose, but I know if I do I’ll have lots of rather unhappy consequences. Right now, the civil rights laws that were used in this case seem to offer really, really bad deterrence to abuse by law enforcement.

    Further, such laws as they are applied to law enforcement officers is pretty badly broken in this country, IMO. We have reports of cops arresting people for video taping them while at work. We have damn few officers prosecuted for shooting innocents whereas private citizens usually face charges.

    Gollum’s position appears to be: this one cop got punished, the other who beat this man to death is probably going to be punished too, therefore problem solved. This is naive and short sighted, IMO.

    I sure don’t want to be punished “just in case” I might speed or might beat someone to death….

    Nice straw man. I’m not arguing that we punish cops because they might abuse their authority, but that they be punished when they abuse their authority and with more frequency than we are currently seeing.

  6. John Burgess says:

    Thanks for the clarification; I can agree with it mostly. I’ve not seen the problem of huge numbers of cops being protected by the blue line, though.

    How many cops are there in the country? How many of them abuse their positions? While ideally one would be too many, that’s not realistic. I don’t see that cops get away with much, which is probably also the reason that they guy got arrested for videotaping them.

    Even the dread–by some–video surveillance cameras can be used to punish police misbehavior. But they can’t prevent it other than through whatever fear they might produce.

    Some people are fearless, others are just dumb.

  7. Gollum says:

    Sorry Steve, my bad on the geography.

    I don’t think Rhodes’ punishment ‘solves the problem’ but it is at least one step above a “no accountability” claim.

    Interestingly, today’s Biloxi Sun Herald has a post on what Rhodes’ plea may mean:

    The Sun Herald | 08/09/2006 | Charges coming, law prof believes

    GULFPORT – Charges against the person who inflicted the deadly blows to Jessie Lee Williams Jr. are imminent if prosecutors corroborate an ex-jailer’s testimony, a legal commentator said.

    Regina Rhodes’ guilty plea Monday to her involvement in the Feb. 4 assault of Williams in the Harrison County jail indicates the legal wheels are in motion for criminal prosecution at the federal level, said Laurie L. Levenson, a professor at Loyola School of Law in Los Angeles.

    Williams’ estate has also filed a wongful death action, which is on hold until the criminal cases are resolved. (That is not unusual.)

    There is also an interesting editorial in the same paper:

    The Sun Herald | 08/09/2006 | Sooner or later, Sheriff Payne will have to explain what has been going on at his jail

    Sooner or later, Sheriff Payne will have to explain what has been going on at his jail

    Regina Lynn Rhodes has been a liar in the past. But prosecutors believe what she has to say now. Perhaps South Mississippians should too.

    On Monday, Rhodes appeared in federal court and admitted to taking part in the fatal beating of Jessie Lee Williams Jr. at the Harrison County jail on the night of Feb. 4. She also admitted she later lied about what happened at the jail that night.

    But Rhodes revealed far more than that.

    She claims that after going to work at the jail in May 2004, she witnessed “a pattern of physical abuse of inmates at the jail.” She said corrections officers “routinely participated in striking, punching, kicking, choking and otherwise assaulting inmates in circumstances that did not justify the use of force.” And she said this behavior was “regularly encouraged” by her supervisor at the jail.

    Rhodes’ confession confirms the worst fears about conditions at the Harrison County jail.

    It would have been horrific enough had Williams’ homicide been an isolated incident. But according to Rhodes, who should know, a fatal beating was always a possibility at the Harrison County jail.

    Six months ago, it finally happened. Six months ago, this reportedly regular and routine pattern of abuse produced the deadly consequences it was bound to produce sooner or later.

    And sooner or later, Harrison County Sheriff George Payne Jr. is going to have to offer some sort of explanation for that.

    Because Payne has made it clear that the sheriff’s department and the jail are his and his alone. He has regularly and routinely rebuffed efforts by the Harrison County Board of Supervisors to engage him in discussions about either the department or the jail.

    Yet it is the Board of Supervisors that must come up with the money to operate the sheriff’s department and the jail. And the supervisors appear to be just as liable to pay damages as the sheriff if the county is sued over those operations.

    This impasse with the sheriff has gone on so long that supervisors are now considering placing the jail in the hands of a private contractor. That may or may not be the best way to correct this situation, but something must be done to ensure that someone taken to the Harrison County jail is not walking into a chamber of horrors, much less a death trap.

    This is why we have kept mentioning George Payne’s name when we have called for swifter justice in the homicide of Jessie Lee Williams. How could a sheriff not be held accountable for such reprehensible behavior by his employees, especially a sheriff who so ferociously guards his turf?

    What is Payne’s answer to the charge of a routine pattern of abuse at his jail?

    What is Payne’s answer to the charge of his employees regularly encouraging such abuse?

    And when will an authority that Payne must answer to put those questions to him in a public forum?

    The interplay between the Sheriff and the board of supervisors is telling. Secretive and terrorial behavior is a textbook precursor to eruption of a scandal.

    To be clear on where I stand here: it seems to me that the Williams case does not illustrate a system lacking in accountability. Rather, it illustrates a system driven by halfwits who weren’t very interested in accountability until someone died. That’s a very different problem.

  8. Steve Verdon says:

    Thanks for the clarification; I can agree with it mostly. I’ve not seen the problem of huge numbers of cops being protected by the blue line, though.

    That is part of the problem. Given the secrecy and covering up, how much would we expect to see?

    How many cops are there in the country? How many of them abuse their positions? While ideally one would be too many, that’s not realistic. I don’t see that cops get away with much, which is probably also the reason that they guy got arrested for videotaping them.

    Well it isn’t even “bad cops”. The all too common use of SWAT units to serve all sorts of warrants can result in innocents getting shot. If you mistakenly shot somebody John you’d likely face criminal charges of some sort. If a cop does it nada, zip, nothing.

    To be clear on where I stand here: it seems to me that the Williams case does not illustrate a system lacking in accountability. Rather, it illustrates a system driven by halfwits who weren’t very interested in accountability until someone died. That’s a very different problem.

    Really? Let me see, you’ve looked at how many cases in this area? A couple? Balko has spent quite some time gathering many examples of law enforcement excesses. Not all of them are beatings, but many of them have rather disquieting outcomes. Spend a few days reading his archives on SWAT tactics and see if you have the same view.

    Oh, and please don’t do come back with the simple statistic of:

    Balko’s examples divided by the number of SWAT raids.

    There is a huge measurement problem in that police departments do NOT keep track of botched raids. Balko has had to rely on press clippings and as such he has likely missed many.