Private prison ex-sergeant guilty in chemical spray cover-up

A former sergeant at a privately-run Louisiana prison has pleaded guilty to covering up an incident in which he and other guards used a chemical spray on five kneeling, handcuffed inmates in October 2016.

Demario Shaffer, 33, was among five Richwood Correctional Center guards indicted in March, about five months after inmates sued the jail, the warden and several officers including “Sgt. Shafer.”

Shaffer pleaded guilty Monday in federal court in Monroe to one count of conspiring to falsify documents to obstruct and influence a matter within federal jurisdiction, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Louisiana’s Western District said in a news release Wednesday. Prosecutors dropped three other counts against him.

Scheduled for trial April 15 are former Capt. Roderick Douglas, of Monroe; former Lt. Christopher Loring, of Monroe; and former guards Quintail Credit, of Winnsboro, and David Parker of Tallulah.

According to a court filing on Shaffer’s guilty plea, jail guards questioning inmates suspected of gang activity brandished a spray can of a “chemical agent” and threatened the inmates with it. When the inmates refused to answer, they were taken into an area without security cameras.

“While the inmates were handcuffed, compliant, kneeling on the floor, not posing a physical threat to anyone, and not evading or struggling with any officer,” the court document states, “Capt. R.D.” sprayed the chemical into one inmate’s eyes and face, then passed the can to the other officers “so that they too could spray the remaining inmates.”

Shaffer and other officers did so, according to the document.

The officers tried to cover up the Oct. 30, 2016, assault by filing false reports to explain why the inmates needed medical treatment, the indictment said.

Shaffer’s guilty plea admitted that he plotted with the other officers to falsify official reports “to conceal the fact that they had unlawfully sprayed” the inmates, and lied about it to FBI agents.

District Judge Terry Doughty scheduled Shaffer’s sentencing for May 1. Shaffer could get up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Richwood Correctional Center is a 1,100-inmate, medium-security prison operated by LaSalle Corrections in the Ouachita Parish town of Richwood.

The guilty plea identified the inmates by the initials A.C., J.K, J.V., S.S. and D.W.

Inmates Adley T. Campbell, Jimmy Klobas, Jareth Vinet, Sidney Stephens and Darin Whittington sued LaSalle, Warden Ray Hansen, and others for damages in October 2017, saying they were strip-searched and questioned about tattoos, allowed to put their clothes back on, and later were lined up on their knees and sprayed with “mace” while their hands were cuffed behind their backs.

That case is still pending in federal court.

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