Shift supervisor Clinton Shawn Sydnor told two guards that the new arrestee needed to be “scared” and “taught a lesson.” So he ordered guards Wesley Lanham and Shawn Freeman to tell the inmates they were getting some “fresh meat.”
As the man was being escorted to the cell in the 300-bed jail, inmates screamed, “He’s such a cutie” and “Bring him to me.”
That’s how the teen’s night of terror was described in a federal indictment handed down Thursday in U.S. District Court in Covington.
It’s the same story that has been recounted in several civil suits, a U.S. Department of Justice investigation and the prosecution of the inmates who were convicted of assaulting the teen.
Just shy of the five-year statute of limitations, Sydnor, 29, of Falmouth; Lanham, 30, of Dry Ridge; and Freeman, 35, of Irvine, Ky., face charges that could send them to prison for life.
“I’m glad these people are not going to get away with this,” said lawyer Don Nageleisen, who sued the jail on behalf of the teen and won a $1.4 million settlement against the jail in 2005.
All three former guards are scheduled to appear in federal court Thursday on charges of conspiracy, violating civil rights, falsifying records and aiding and abetting. Sydnor is additionally charged with one count of witness tampering.
The defendants made up a story about why the 18-year-old was placed in the cell with “dangerous inmates,” according to the indictment.
Jail protocol called for the teen to be locked up in a holding cell just off the booking room.
Sydnor then falsified logs to cover up the fact that he and his co-defendants didn’t check on the teen’s well-being throughout the night, according to the indictment, and threatened a guard who considered telling the truth.
“It is hard to imagine in today’s society that something this outrageous can take place,” Nageleisen said. “I can’t imagine how these guards could be so cruel to such a young innocent child.”
Sydnor and Freeman couldn’t be reached, but Lanham’s attorney, Dan Dickerson, said his client “denies any criminal involvement in this incident and expects to be completely exonerated.”
Lanham no longer works in the criminal justice field, Dickerson said. Grant County Jailer Steve Kellam said all three guards were fired shortly after the rape.
The traffic violations against the teen were ultimately dropped by then-prosecutor Don Wells. The teen was arrested after trying to flee a state trooper, who clocked him traveling 35 mph over the limit on narrow, two-lane U.S. 27 in Pendleton County.
“The Grant County jail needs to hear my message,” Wells said in a May 2003 interview. “Young people are not to be neglected and humiliated by thugs and hoodlums in the jail over there.”
In civil litigation, the teen says he was carried overhead by a mob of inmates and led to the showers.
The violent attack, rape and sodomy carried on through the night.
The victim – now 23 – leads a very non-social life, Nageleisen said.
“It is a day-by-day thing for him,” he said. “He stays to himself. He doesn’t go out in public.”
Grant County Judge-executive Darrell Link said the indictments appear to be the result of a five-year investigation by the justice department’s Civil Rights Division.
“The Grant County Fiscal Court invited the United States Justice Department into the Grant County Detention Center … to ensure that no stone would be left unturned in our quest to seek the unvarnished truth,” Link said.
“If this is the outcome of that investigation, I’m certainly pleased the cloud over the jail will finally be removed.”
He said he found it ironic that the Justice Department didn’t remove federal inmates from the jail during the years-long investigation if they were truly concerned about civil rights violations.
The U.S. Marshal Service for the Southern District of Ohio didn’t stop locking up federal inmates at the jail until November. That is when a jail guard was caught trying to sell a key to jail handcuffs.
Kellam said he didn’t want to comment on the Justice Department investigation.
To avoid another rape, he said the jail has revamped its policies and strengthened training.
Substantial security improvements also were made after a convicted bank robber escaped from an exercise yard in June and went on a cross-country crime spree before being apprehended.
“I’m confident that they have made tremendous progress over there, and they have policies in place that should diminish the opportunity … for this to happen,” Link said. “But when you have humans in charge, sometimes errors are made. We certainly recognize the fact some people make poor decisions.”