Fourth former Alabama prison officer goes on trial today in inmate’s beating death
MONTGOMERY, Alabama — The last of four former correctional officers charged in the beating death of an Alabama inmate goes on trial today in Montgomery.
Former Ventress prison officer Joseph Sanders is charged with violating inmate Rocrast Mack’s rights by aiding in the beating, conspiring with others to cover up how Mack died, and obstructing justice. The other three former officers have either pleaded guilty or been convicted, and all three are awaiting sentencing.
Mack was beaten at the prison in Clayton on Aug. 4, 2010. He died the next morning at a Montgomery hospital. Testimony in previous court proceedings showed he had severe bruises from his head to his legs, his two front teeth were knocked out, and his brain was severely swollen from the blows. The events started with a female correctional officer hitting Mack. He hit her back, and the officer radioed for help, saying she had been jumped by an inmate. Other officers responded and Mack was beaten outside a prison dorm, in a prison office and in the prison infirmary, according to previous testimony.
Defense attorney Jim Parkman said that when Sanders took a job at the prison in southeast Alabama, he was following in footsteps of his father, who worked at Ventress until retiring in the spring. “It was all in the family,” he said.
Parkman is one of Alabama’s best known criminal defense lawyers and helped get acquittals for former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy on accounting fraud charges in Birmingham in 2005 and state Sen. Harri Anne Smith, I-Slocomb, on bribery charges in Montgomery in 2012.
Parkman said he intends to show in court that Sanders’ role has been overstated by prosecutors, that he never assaulted the inmate, and that he was never part of any cover-up.
Federal prosecutors Patricia Sumner and Jerusha Adams said in court papers they intend to show that Sanders struck Mack several times with a baton when Mack was offering no resistance in the prison office. They also said they will show Sanders lied in the initial investigation by saying there was no baton in the office.
The defense acknowledges that Sanders made contradictory statements about what happened at the prison but says it was not done with criminal intent.
Sanders, 32, faces up to 75 years in prison if convicted.
Former officers Matthew Davidson and Scottie Glenn have pleaded guilty to violating Mack’s rights and conspiracy. Former Ventress supervisor Michael Smith was convicted last month of violating Mack’s rights by fatally beating him, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Smith faces up to life in prison. Davidson and Glenn could be sentenced to up to 20 years on each count. Glenn testified at Smith’s trial and is expected to testify again in Sanders’ trial.
Mack was 24 when he died. He had been at Ventress since March 2010 on a 20-year sentence for a drug conviction in Montgomery County. His family sued the state over his death and got a $900,000 settlement.