A former juvenile detention officer on Wednesday admitted to using pepper spray and assaulting a 15-year-old boy, according to officials.
Jason Benton, 43, who worked at the former White River Juvenile Detention Center, also plead guilty of obstructing justice by falsifying an incident report about that assault, according to officials.
Benton faces a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
According to the guilty plea, Benton instructed the juvenile, who was locked in his 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.
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 stemming from assaults on juvenile detainees at the White River Juvenile Detention Center.
On April 26, 2017, former White River supervisors Captain Peggy Kendrick, 44, and Lieutenant Dennis Fuller, 40, pleaded guilty to conspiring to assault juvenile detainees. Kendrick also pleaded guilty to assaulting a sixteen-year-old girl using pepper spray and for obstructing justice.
Kendrick and Fuller are awaiting sentencing.
Two other former White River Juvenile Detention Center officers, Will Ray, 26, and Thomas Farris, 48, are scheduled to begin trial on Aug. 28, in federal court in Little Rock on related charges of conspiring to assault and assaulting juveniles.
“The Constitution protects all individuals – including those who are incarcerated – from unjustified force by those acting under color of law,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division. “We will vigorously investigate and prosecute officers who break the public trust in this way.”
“When law enforcement officers violate the law and the public trust, they will be prosecuted and held accountable,” said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas Cody Hiland. “There will be no exception. This officer broke his oath to uphold the Constitution, injured a juvenile in the process, and then tried to cover it up. That is a crime, and those who commit crimes will be punished accordingly.”