A former member of Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex’s (EKCC) internal affairs department pleaded guilty to one count of deprivation of an inmate’s civil rights, and a former EKCC sergeant pleaded guilty to three counts of obstruction of justice for attempting to cover up their roles in the assault of a restrained inmate.
In their plea agreements, James D. Benish, 36, and Randy L. Nickell, 54, acknowledged that on July 24, 2018, they witnessed fellow EKCC correctional officers assault a non-violent inmate who was lying face-down, wearing handcuffs and leg shackles, and isolated in a prison shower cell. Benish admitted that he was present in the shower during the assault, and he further acknowledged that he violated the inmate’s civil rights by failing to intervene and protect the inmate despite having the means and opportunity to do so. Nickell, who stood outside of the shower while the assault occurred, admitted that he falsified records by omitting the assault from his occurrence report, and that he later lied to the supervisor assigned to investigate the incident, as well as to a Kentucky State Police (KSP) detective.
Two other former officers have pleaded guilty in related cases. On Aug. 29, 2022, former EKCC officer Jeffery Havens pleaded guilty to one count of deprivation of civil rights based on his assault of the inmate. On July 11, 2022, former EKCC officer Derek Mays pleaded guilty to four counts of obstruction of justice based on his efforts to cover up the same assault.
Benish and Nickell are scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 11. Benish faces a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Nickell faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for each charge. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, U.S. Attorney Carlton S. Shier IV for the Eastern District of Kentucky, Special Agent in Charge Jodi Cohen of the FBI Louisville Field Office and Colonel Phillip Burnett Jr. Commissioner of Kentucky State Police (KSP) made the announcement.
The FBI Louisville Field Office, KSP and the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet investigated the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Zach Dembo and Mary Melton for the Eastern District of Kentucky and Trial Attorney Thomas Johnson of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section prosecuted the case.