Former Harrison County jailer given 2 life sentences in beating death

Published 6:05 pm Friday, November 2, 2007

A former jailer convicted in federal court for his role in the death of a Harrison County prisoner was sentenced Thursday in Gulfport to two terms of life in prison.

Ryan Michael Teel was convicted by a Hattiesburg jury in August for his role in the beating death of Jessie Lee Williams Jr. and attacks on other inmates.

Nine former deputies who pleaded guilty to conspiring to abuse inmates at the jail will be sentenced Nov. 5, a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s office said.

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U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. also gave Teel 20 years for trying to cover up the attack by destroying records. He also must split the cost of Williams’ funeral with former jailer Regina Rhodes.

Teel will serve the two life sentences at the same time.

“Defendant Teel promised to enforce the law, but he abused that authority to inflict suffering and death on an inmate entrusted to his care,” Acting U.S. Attorney General Peter D. Keisler said in a news release. “This prosecution … reflects the Department’s commitment to rooting out official misconduct. Today’s sentence sends a message that the Department of Justice will not tolerate such violent abuse of official authority.”

Teel was a sergeant and an officer in charge of the booking room at the Harrison County Jail. His co-defendant, James Ricky “Rick” Gaston, was acquitted on all charges.

The men were accused of conspiring with others to threaten, injure and oppress inmates while acting under color of law.

Both Gaston and Teel testified during their trial.

Teel acknowledged under cross examination that he acted “inappropriately” during a scuffle with inmate Only Al-Khidir by using pepper spray because the inmate kicked him in the groin. The inmate was reportedly handcuffed and lying on the floor when the attack occurred.

Gaston denied any involvement in abuses at the facility.

Williams died of head injuries after being beaten on Feb. 4, 2006. His family filed a civil lawsuit in federal court, spurring investigations.

“Today’s sentence should restore the public confidence in our system of justice by showing that no one, not even law enforcement officers, are above the law and that the civil rights of all citizens, regardless of their circumstances, must be protected,” said Dunn Lampton, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi.