Memphis, Tennessee - Nathaniel Griffin, 29, Thursday pleaded guilty to using unlawful force on an inmate while Griffin was serving as a correctional officer with the Tennessee Department of Corrections, announced Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, United States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee D. Michael Dunavant, and FBI-Memphis Special Agent in Charge M.A. Myers.
“The Justice Department will continue to vigorously prosecute correctional officers who violate the public’s trust by committing crimes and attempting to cover up violations of federal criminal law,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband. “Officer Griffin abused his power in this case, and the Department of Justice held him accountable for his unlawful actions.”
"Correctional officers must abide by and adhere to the same laws they take an oath to uphold and enforce. Instead of serving and protecting the public, this officer used physical force to violate the civil rights of an individual and will now be held accountable, vividly illustrating that no one is above the law,” said U.S. Attorney D. Michael Dunavant.
"The FBI takes all allegations of civil rights violations seriously, and we will work tirelessly alongside our law enforcement partners to preserve the integrity of the criminal justice system," said M.A. Myers, Special Agent in Charge of the Memphis Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. "Those who choose to ignore the oath they took to protect and serve will be investigated and brought to justice."
On or about Feb. 1, Griffin and fellow correctional officers T.P., J.Y., C.M., and C.S. entered the cell of R.T., an inmate in the mental health unit at the Northwest County Correctional Complex in Tiptonville, Tennessee. Inmate R.T. spit and then remained seated on a bench, with his arms by his sides.
Correctional officer J.Y. looked in the direction of the surveillance camera in the cell and said, “Cover the camera.” Officer C.S. then covered the camera with his hand. When the camera was covered, Griffin saw inmate R.T. sitting with his arms by his side. Correctional Officer J.Y. then repeatedly punched R.T. Griffin estimated that Officer J.Y. hit R.T. between 20-30 times. At some point, Officer J.Y. stopped hitting R.T., looked back at Officer T.P., and said, “Get you some.” Officer T.P. then stepped up and punched R.T. between four to five times.
During the assault by the officers, inmate R.T. sat on the bench and covered his face and head with his hands. Griffin knew that punching R.T. was unlawful, but he did not step in to stop it. Officers T.M., C.S., and C.M. were in a position to watch as J.Y. and T.P. punched inmate R.T., but none of them attempted to stop the officers from hitting R.T.
Griffin heard an officer in the cell ask for paper towels. Correctional Officer C.M. handed the towels to Griffin. Griffin wet them in the sink, and handed them to Officer C.S. Griffin knew when they wet the towels, they would be used to cover the camera. After R.T. was punched by J.Y. and T.P., Griffin observed that R.T. was bleeding.
After Officers J.Y. and T.P. stopped punching R.T., the inmate spit on Griffin’s chest and arm. Griffin punched R.T. multiple times. Griffin then left the cell.
Outside of the cell, Griffin spoke with T.P., J.Y., and Corporal T.M. Corporal T.M., who was the ranking officer, told the other officers that they should come up with a false cover story about what happened to R.T. Griffin understood that any subsequent discussion of the incident would not include that he and other officers had punched R.T.
Griffin admitted in today’s guilty plea that he violated 18 U.S.C. § 242 when he repeatedly punched and injured inmate R.T. without legal justification. The maximum penalty for this civil rights offense is 10 years imprisonment. Sentencing is set for Nov. 13.
This case was investigated by the Memphis Division of the FBI with the support of the Tennessee Department of Corrections, and is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Rebekah J. Bailey of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and Assistant United States Attorney David Pritchard of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee.