After inmate Kenneth Davis was beaten brutally four times in a 24-hour period by corrections officers at Roxbury Correctional Institution (RCI) in Hagerstown in 2008, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Service (DPSCS) "acted swiftly and decisively" to hold accountable those responsible, according to spokesman Mark Vernarelli. The result: 18 officers fired, four suspended, and prompt internal and criminal investigations, Vernarelli adds. Ultimately, nine officers faced criminal charges; all but two who pleaded guilty were acquitted at high-profile jury trials held in 2009 in Western Maryland, where DPSCS is a major employer.
Now, nearly five years after Davis' beating, however, the whole matter appears headed for renewed criminal prosecution-this time, by the U.S. Department of Justice. On Jan. 18, Ryan Lohr, a correctional officer at RCI, was charged in Maryland U.S. District Court with a single count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and destroy evidence, according to court documents. Lohr, 26*, is accused of participating in a cover-up of one of the beatings Davis received. Lohr was not charged in the prior state cases, and news accounts of the trials in those cases do not mention his name as one of the witnesses who testified.
Lohr's prosecutor is Forrest Christian, special litigation counsel for the criminal section of the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, who on Jan. 23 joined the case initially brought by Maryland Assistant U.S. Attorney P. Michael Cunningham. Christian has handled some high-profile cases around the country, many involving law enforcers who committed crimes they tried to cover up.
Perhaps the most famous of Christian's cases involved the Danziger Bridge shootings by New Orleans police officers after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Last year Christian prosecuted Georgia corrections officers who covered up their involvement in inmate assaults. In Maryland, Christian handled the case against former corrections officer Anthony McIntosh-who recently pleaded guilty to obstructing the investigation into the in-custody death of inmate Ronnie White-and an earlier case against Baltimore police officers, including Gregory Mussmacher, who tried to cover up a police beating of a detained juvenile.
Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein would not discuss Lohr's case specifically but says Cunningham coordinates with CRD, and "frequently [CRD] will open a case and contact us" so that "we have the benefit of their expertise and they have the benefit of our familiarity with the local community." When asked about the possibility of double jeopardy-since Maryland prosecutors already went for convictions for Davis' beatings, with little success-Rosenstein says the "double-jeopardy bar does not preclude successive prosecution" if federal prosecutors take up an already-tried state case.
Lohr's charges were filed in a criminal information, which is entered with the defendant's consent in lieu of a grand-jury indictment and often is followed by a guilty plea. The four-page document uses initials, rather than full names, when identifying the inmate-victim-"KD"-and Lohr's alleged co-conspirators, who include "Officer TH" and "Supervisor ES."
According to the criminal information, on March 9, 2008, Lohr "opened the door to inmate KD's cell to allow other correctional officers to assault inmate KD in retaliation" for "a previous attack on an officer." Lohr "watched from the cell door as correctional officers entered the cell and beat inmate KD," striking him "on his head, face, and body with fists and kicks."
Starting on the day of the beatings, and up until November 2012, Lohr and "other known RCI correctional officers and supervisors" conspired to obstruct justice and destroy evidence about the assault, the document says, by providing investigators with "false and misleading information" and "cover[ing] up other information in order to ensure their roles. . . would not be discovered" so that they would be "shielded from liability."
After Lohr and the others realized there would be an investigation, they met and "agreed to provide investigators with false information to cover up the assault," the document says, adding that "at one meeting, Officer TH said the group should tell investigators that they did not see, hear, or do anything." Immediately after the assault, Lohr "directed others to clean up the blood in inmate KD's cell rather than to preserve the blood as evidence."
Having located surveillance tapes that recorded the assault, "supervisor ES announced that 'he would take care of' the issue, and then waved what appeared to be a magnet over several surveillance tapes in order to erase the footage" and "then hid the magnetic device in the drop-ceiling," the document explains. In addition, "a supervisor-who previously had ordered an assault on inmate KD-instructed defendant Lohr and officer TH not to write any reports about inmate KD and his injuries."
The day after the assault and again on March 27, 2008, Lohr "concealed that he and his co-conspirators were involved in a cover-up" when meeting with investigators on the case, providing them "with false and misleading statements about the beating," according to the document. In addition, Lohr "contacted another officer who was not involved in the beating and instructed that officer not to tell investigators that he knew Lohr had been" in the section of RCI where KD's cell was when the assault occurred.
Two of the corrections officers accused by state prosecutors in the Kenneth Davis beating-Tyson Hinkle and Reginald Martin-currently are defendants in a federal lawsuit brought in 2007 by another inmate, Heru Hannibal Segu, who claims to have been unconstitutionally victimized by officer brutality at RCI. Another federal lawsuit currently headed for settlement, brought in 2008 by inmate Benjamin Davis, also alleges illegal violence at the hands of RCI corrections officers about six months after Kenneth Davis was beaten.
"We cannot and will not tolerate violence or unnecessary force committed by staff," DPSCS' Vernarelli writes in an email, "just as we won't tolerate it committed against staff by inmates."
And if Forrest Christian has his way, the feds won't tolerate officers' efforts to cover up such abuses.
*Correction: Ryan Lohr is 26 years old, not 36, as this story originally reported. City Paper regrets the error.