Ex-Kentucky prison leader headed to prison for failing to stop beating of handcuffed inmate by guards

Published 4:29 pm Tuesday, June 11, 2024

A former Kentucky corrections sergeant, Eric L. Nantell, 48, was sentenced today to 84 months in prison followed by two years of supervised release for one count of deprivation of civil rights for his failure to intervene to stop the assault of an inmate, two counts of obstruction of justice for misleading state investigators and one count of making false statements to a special agent of the FBI. Nantell was convicted after a four-day trial. Six other officers previously pleaded guilty and were sentenced for their roles in the assault and cover-up, and three of those officers testified for the government at trial.

“As the vicious beating of a handcuffed, leg-shackled inmate unfolded, this defendant failed to intervene to stop the assault and then abused his power by obstructing the investigation into the crime,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This cover-up scheme failed. All seven officers who participated in the brutal assault of the inmate or the coordinated cover-up that followed have been brought to justice. The Justice Department will continue to hold accountable law enforcement officials who engage in misconduct at every level, including those who carry out unlawful assaults, those who fail to intervene to stop them and those who try to cover up the violations.”

“Instead of protecting someone in his custody and care or supervising others under his command, he turned a blind eye to a brutal beating and then tried to cover it up,” said U.S. Attorney Carlton S. Shier IV for the Eastern District of Kentucky. “That’s not law enforcement; that’s disgraceful criminal conduct. Fortunately, he now faces the consequences of his utter betrayal of responsibility and callous attempts to undermine genuine law enforcement.”

“In this case, one inmate was betrayed by no less than seven corrections officers whose basic duty was to protect the civil rights of all the inmates under their supervision,” said Special Agent in Charge Michael E. Stansbury of the FBI Louisville Field Office. “With today’s sentencing, all of the officers who took part in the assault, and those who attempted to cover-up the truth, have now been held accountable. Everyone deserves protection under the law, and the FBI is proud to work with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Kentucky to hold any officer criminally responsible for violating the civil rights of a person in his or her custody.”

According to court documents and evidence introduced at trial, Nantell, who at that time was a sergeant at the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex (EKCC), was supervising a routine prisoner escort procedure when three officers, two of whom were members of the prison’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. Nantell was standing at the door of the shower when the assault began, and he watched the officers repeatedly punch and kick the inmate in the head and back. After silently observing the beating for more than 20 seconds, Nantell walked away while the officers continued to beat the inmate.

Within hours of the inmate reporting the abuse, supervisors of EKCC and state detectives of the Kentucky State Police had opened an investigation. Nantell joined with other officers in a cover-up scheme to hide the truth. As part of that cover-up, he lied to officers of both agencies as well as a special agent of the FBI.