Written by: Michael Phillips
High-Profile Indictments in Inmate Death Case
Charleston, W.Va. (AP) — Five former correctional officers in West Virginia are facing federal charges related to the 2022 death of 37-year-old Quantez Burks, who was brutally beaten while handcuffed and restrained in an interview room and later a jail cell at the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver.
Details of the Grand Jury Indictment
A federal grand jury handed down indictments on Thursday, accusing three former Southern Regional Jail correctional officers — 39-year-old Mark Holdren, 29-year-old Cory Snyder, and 35-year-old Johnathan Walters — of conspiring with other officers to unlawfully beat Burks in an act of retaliation.
The Incident and Its Aftermath
Burks, a pretrial detainee at the jail, died less than a day after being booked on a wanton endangerment charge in March 2022. According to court documents, the officers are alleged to have struck Burks while he was restrained and handcuffed in an interview room, and later assaulted him again when he was forcibly moved to a prison cell in another housing unit.
Cover-Up Allegations and Broader Implications
The U.S. Justice Department revealed that all five officers, along with a former lieutenant, are also charged with attempting to cover up their actions. The indictments come weeks after two different West Virginia corrections officers pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy charge related to the fatal beating of the same inmate.
Class-Action Lawsuit and Official Responses
The case has brought attention to conditions and deaths at the Southern Regional Jail, leading to a $4 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit filed by inmates who described conditions as inhumane. The lawsuit cited complaints such as a lack of access to water and food, overcrowding, and fights allowed to continue until someone was injured.
Dismissals and Investigations
Former Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation Executive Officer Brad Douglas and Homeland Security Chief Counsel Phil Sword were fired by Gov. Jim Justice's administration after a federal magistrate judge cited the "intentional" destruction of records in recommending a default judgment in the lawsuit.
The indictment alleges that two other former corrections officers were indicted on a charge of failing to intervene in the unlawful assault, resulting in Burks' death. The five officers, along with a former lieutenant, are charged with covering up the use of unlawful force by omitting material information and providing false and misleading information to investigators.
State's Commitment to Justice
West Virginia Department of Homeland Security Secretary Mark Sorsaia emphasized that the state has "no tolerance for abuse of any kind to be inflicted on inmates that are housed in our state facilities." Sorsaia stated that the state collaborated closely with federal law enforcement throughout the investigation.
Upcoming Sentencing and Investigations
Former officers Andrew Fleshman and Steven Wimmer, who previously pleaded guilty, are set to be sentenced on Feb. 22. The state medical examiner's office initially attributed Burks' cause of death to natural causes, but a private autopsy conducted by the family's attorney revealed multiple areas of blunt force trauma on his body. The indicted officers' contact information was not immediately available.
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