LITTLE ROCK, AR (KAIT) - A former White River Juvenile Detention Center officer has pleaded guilty to using pepper spray to assault a 15-year-old boy and for falsifying a report about the assault, federal prosecutors said today.
According to U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland, Jason Benton of Batesville appeared in federal court Wednesday and pleaded guilty to federal deprivation of rights under color of law and falsification of records in connection with the case.
Benton was indicted in May 2017 on five counts dealing with violations of civil rights at the detention center in Batesville, Hiland said in a news release.
Prosecutors say Benton told the juvenile, who was locked in a cell, to be quiet.
"Benton then had the juvenile's cell door opened and ordered the juvenile to come out of his cell with his mattress. The juvenile picked up his mattress as instructed," Hiland said in a news release. "As the juvenile turned to face the cell door, holding the mattress in both arms, Benton pepper sprayed the juvenile in the face from a distance of a few inches. Benton continued spraying the juvenile as he tried to turn his head away from the spray. Benton then took the juvenile to the ground. Benton covered up the assault when he falsified an incident report, saying that the juvenile had attempted to lunge at him with his fists clenched, when in fact, the juvenile had posed no physical threat."
Benton is the third former officer to plead guilty to charges involving assaults on juvenile detainees at the center, prosecutors also said.
Former supervisors Captain Peggy Kendrick and Lt. Dennis Fuller pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to assault juvenile detainees, while Kendrick also pleaded guilty to assaulting a 16-year-old girl with pepper spray and obstruction of justice, Hiland said.
A federal trial on two other suspects - Will Ray and Thomas Farris - on conspiring to assault and assaulting juveniles is set to start Aug. 28 in federal court in Little Rock.
Benton will be sentenced at a later date.
The investigation is still ongoing and is being investigated by the Little Rock office of the FBI.