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Harrison Co. ex-jailer’s trial reset to May 28

A federal judge has rescheduled for May 28, the trial of a former Harrison County jailer charged for his role in the death of an inmate at the local jail.

U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. on Tuesday also gave federal prosecutors until Feb. 16 to declare whether it will seek the death penalty.

Ryan Teel was indicted on criminal charges in the Feb. 4 fatal beating of jail inmate Jessie Lee Williams Jr. His trial had been scheduled for Nov. 6. Teel has been in custody at an undisclosed location since his arrest by the FBI on Aug. 28.

At least two related cases hinge on the resolution of charges against Teel. Former corrections officer Regina Rhodes’ sentencing has been continued until after Teel’s trial. Also, a wrongful death lawsuit filed for Williams’ estate in a related civil case remains in limbo.

If the death penalty is sought, Jim Davis, Teel’s attorney, said he probably will ask for a later trial date.

“A trial date is always subject to change,” Davis said, “but if they decide to go for the death penalty, I’ll ask for another court-appointed attorney to assist me. I’m probably one of the few coast attorneys with death-penalty experience, but I’d rather get additional assistance because of all that a (death penalty) case involves.”

Teel waives the right to a speedy trial by agreeing to a later trial date.

Teel has been accused of using excessive force in an attempt to kill Williams, and prosecutors could use a federal statute involving deprivation of civil rights under color of law. As it stands, that count is punishable by any number of years up to life in prison.

It also is the count that prosecutors could upgrade through a new indictment to seek the death penalty.

Another count — destruction, alteration or falsification of records in a federal investigation — alleges Teel falsified a report with the intention of impeding or obstructing justice. That count carries a penalty of up to 20 years.

Williams’ family filed the civil lawsuit on March 14. It was placed on hold in July pending developments in related criminal matters.

“On behalf of the family, we want to make sure that justice is done and done right,” said attorney Michael W. Crosby. “We will see it through to the end, no matter how long it takes.”

Crosby and co-counsel John Whitfield have filed motions asking permission to continue with the civil lawsuit.

The civil lawsuit and Rhodes, in her guilty pleas to criminal accusations, claim a pattern of abuse existed at the jail. Rhodes, who remains free on bond, has admitted she assaulted Williams and lied to cover it up. Her charges carry maximum penalties of 13 years in prison.

Teel and Rhodes, both 29, worked together in the jail booking room. Teel, on occasion, was Rhodes’ supervisor. Teel resigned March 8. Rhodes was fired April 11.