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Former juvenile detention guard pleads guilty to charges

A news release from the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, says a former officer with the White River Detention Center in Batesville pleaded guilty Wednesday to two charges that stemmed from his use of pepper spray on a 15-year-old inmate.

The former guard at the center, Jason Benton, 43, entered the plea in Federal Court.

According to the press release, Benton pleaded guilty to “deprivation of rights under the color of law,” and falsifying a report about the attack.

His guilty plea said Benton instructed the teen to be quiet while the 15-year-old was locked in his cell.  Benton then opened the door and ordered the youth to come out with his mattress. When the youth came out, Benton pepper-sprayed the minor at close range while the boy was holding the mattress and trying to turn his head away.  Benton then reported that the boy tried to lunge at him with closed fists which turned out to not be true.

U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland said Benton’s admission of guilt is part of an investigation into a pattern of abuse by guards and supervisors at the Independence County lockup.

Two former White River Detention Center supervisors, Peggy Kendrick, 44, and Dennis Fuller, 40, confessed in April of last year to assaulting and needlessly punishing youths and attempting to cover it up by falsifying reports. Two other officers of the facility, Thomas Farris, 47, and Will Ray, 26, were indicted along with Benton. Both pleaded innocent to their charges.

The U.S. Attorney said that an investigation by the FBI’s Little Rock Field Division is ongoing.

Benton will be sentenced at a later time.  He faces sentences of up to 20 years in prison and fines up to $250,000.

The allegations of misconduct by officers are said to have occurred between 2012 and 2014.

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