Gulfport officers testify in Harrison jail abuse trial

Published 4:23 pm Friday, August 10, 2007

The jury in the federal trial of two former Harrison County jailers heard testimony by Gulfport Police offices on Thursday that they saw no injuries on Jessie Lee Williams Jr. the night of his arrest.

Williams was belligerent but laid back at points, talking and laughing with another officer, but did not resist him, the police officers said.

Williams died two days after authorities said he was beaten while in the jail’s booking room on Feb. 4, 2006.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The testimony could be crucial to the prosecution because defense attorney Jim Davis claims his client, Ryan Michael Teel, did not cause the injuries that resulted in Williams’ death at the jail.

Several other former jailers earlier agreed to plea deals in the case. The federal government alleged these accused conspired to deprive inmates of their civil rights with intentional, unjustified use of force.

Also Thursday, former Harrison County Sheriff’s Capt. Rupert Lacy testified that he had trained Teel and co-defendant James Ricky “Rick” Gaston in the use of Tasers and Harrison County jailers on the proper use of pepper spray.

Lacy said that pepper spray should not be used on an inmate who is restrained, nor should a Taser be used on an inmate who is restrained or complying with orders.

On Wednesday another former corrections officer at the coast jail testified that he was so disgusted following a second incident of inmate abuse within days in 2005 that he left work early and quit his job in the jail’s booking room.

“The cameras were our enemy,” former officer Timothy Brandon Moore testified on Wednesday. He told jurors he realized after an incident at the jail a week earlier he needed to distance himself from officers who intentionally injured inmates who were no threat to the staff or other detainees.

The Oct. 11, 2005, incident occurred after a deputy sheriff radioed that he was bringing “a live one” — a combative detainee — to the booking room after an arrest, Moore said. He said Teel, then a sergeant and in charge of the booking room, “was excited” and said he was going to use a Taser on the inmate.

The inmate “was fairly calm” when he was brought to booking, said Moore, who claimed Teel took the inmate in the shower room, which has no surveillance cameras, ordered him to strip and shot him in the private parts with a Taser.

“Other officers were laughing and egging him on,” said Moore, and Teel bragged “it smelled like burning hair and hot dogs.”

Moore said that on Oct. 5, 2005, he had watched officer Morgan Thompson kick inmate Only Al-Khidir in the face.

That incident is the one the federal government used to accuse Moore of obstructing justice by filing a false report. Moore pleaded guilty in July and awaits sentencing with seven former officers who have pleaded guilty to conspiring to deprive inmates’ rights under color of law.

In his testimony, Moore said he filed a short, vague “use-of-force narrative” but it didn’t match one written by Thompson. Moore said Gaston instructed him to write a report that matched Thompson’s account. Thompson also has pleaded guilty.

Federal trial attorneys Lisa Krigsten and John Cotton Richmond presented as evidence a use-of-force policy and memo Gaston wrote after an April 2005 meeting. Moore said the meeting was held “to blast” booking officers for cursing and using excessive force. Moore said any changes didn’t last.

Officers continued to pepper-spray inmates for fun, Moore said, and would spray it on door handles and toilet seats, which caused burning to their eyes and “butts.”