Six former Kentucky prison officers sentenced for assaulting inmate, covering up crime, feds say

Published 10:05 am Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Six former officers of the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex (EKCC) were sentenced on Monday for their roles in the assault of an inmate and the subsequent cover-up.

Three officers who carried out the assault on the inmate and covered it up — Randall Dennis, 28, James Benish, 37, and Jeffery Havens, 28 — were sentenced to 60, 27 and 15 months in prison, respectively, followed by two years of supervised release each. A supervisor and two other officers who covered up the assault — Randy Nickell, 55, Nathan Cantrell, 33, and Derek Mays, 34 — were each sentenced to one month in prison, followed by two years of supervised release, with Nickell and Cantrell sentenced to five additional months of home confinement. All six officers pleaded guilty, and three of the officers testified against a seventh co-defendant, Eric Nantell, who was found guilty at a trial earlier this year.

“These former corrections officers are being sentenced to prison for their roles in the violent assault of a handcuffed inmate in a prison shower cell, and their attempt to cover-up the crime,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “These sentences should send a clear message: corrections officers are not above the law in our country. The Justice Department will continue to enforce federal laws to protect the civil and constitutional rights of people held in our jails and prisons.”

“These individuals were responsible for the custody and care of inmates; instead, they chose to assault them, and lie to cover up the abuse,” said U.S. Attorney Carlton S. Shier IV for the Eastern District of Kentucky. “Their conduct was a profound breach of the trust placed in them, a brazen disregard for safety of people in their care and a disgraceful effort to conceal their crime. Fortunately, they now face the consequences of this inexcusable conduct.”

“When several officers took part in beating an inmate who was unable to defend himself, a blatant violation of the individual’s civil rights occurred. But the injustice did not stop there as evidence of a cover-up also emerged,” said Special Agent in Charge Michael E. Stansbury of the FBI Louisville Field Office. “As in this case, FBI personnel will always take allegations of police misconduct seriously and will leave no stone unturned when it comes to identifying perpetrators who violate federal law.”

The evidence at trial established that Dennis and Benish, both of whom were members of EKCC’s internal affairs department, assaulted a non-violent inmate who was lying face-down, wearing handcuffs and leg shackles and isolated in a prison shower cell. Havens, an entry-level officer, joined them in the assault.

Within hours of the inmate reporting the abuse, supervisors of EKCC and state detectives of the Kentucky State Police opened an investigation. Nickell, Cantrell and Mays, who were standing in the hallway outside the door of the shower when the assault began, joined the other officers in a cover-up scheme. As part of that cover-up, they wrote false reports and lied to state investigators.

The one defendant who did not plead guilty was recently convicted at trial in a related case. On Feb. 15, former Corrections Sergeant Nantell was convicted of one count of deprivation of civil rights for failing to intervene to protect the inmate and three counts of obstruction for lying to state and federal investigators. Nantell’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 10. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The FBI Louisville Field Office investigated the case.

Trial Attorney Thomas Johnson of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Zachary Dembo and Mary Melton for the Eastern District of Kentucky prosecuted the case.