Defendant testifies in trial against 2 former Harrison County jailers

Published 3:38 pm Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A former Harrison County jailer testifying at his own trial Tuesday acknowledged he “inappropriately” assaulted an inmate with pepper spray.

Former jailers Ryan Teel and James Ricky “Rick” Gaston are being tried on federal charges of abusing inmates at the South Mississippi facility.

Teel at first denied ever using excessive force against any inmate, but backtracked during cross-examination, according to a article.

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He said he used the pepper spray “inappropriately” because the inmate kicked him in the groin. The inmate was reportedly handcuffed and lying on the floor when the attack occurred.

When testifying about another beating, involving inmate Jessie Lee Williams Jr., who died after the assault, Teel said he was “dazed” because his head slammed against the wall after a struggle with Williams.

Teel said he believed Williams was trying to remove Teel’s Taser and use it against him during the attack on Feb. 4, 2006.

“I feared for my life,” Teel testified.

The trial comes 18 months after Williams died. The death prompted a state and federal investigation. Eight other former jailers pleaded guilty to various crimes and agreed to testify for the prosecution.

Teel, 30, was a sergeant and an officer in charge of the booking room while Gaston, 52, was a captain in charge of inmate records, jail security and the booking room. Both are accused of conspiring with others to threaten, injure and oppress inmates while acting under color of law.

The federal government rested its case Monday.

When Teel’s attorney rests his case, testimony will begin for Gaston’s defense. The trial could end this week.