Former Kentucky sergeant sentenced to 7 years in prison for failing to stop beating of handcuffed inmate

A former Kentucky corrections sergeant was sentenced Tuesday to seven years in prison for failing to stop the beating of an inmate who was handcuffed and shackled, and then lying to investigators in a cover-up scheme.

Following the prison sentence, Eric L. Nantell, 48, will be on two years of supervised release, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Kentucky said in a news release.

The sentencing comes six years after the vicious attack in the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex. The inmate was nonviolent and lying face down in handcuffs and leg shackles when he was beaten in a prison shower stall in July 2018, according to officials.

Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex. (Google Maps)
Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex. (Google Maps)

Nantell, who was a sergeant at the prison, was supervising a routine prisoner escort procedure when officers Randall Dennis and James Benish attacked him, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Jeffery Havens, who was an entry-level officer, joined them in the assault.

Nantell was standing at the door of the shower and watched as the officers punched and kicked the inmate in the head and back, the news release states. After watching the beating for more than 20 seconds, he walked away as the officers continued their attack.

After the inmate reported the assault, Nantell and other officers came up with a "cover-up scheme to hide the truth" and lied to state detectives, supervisors at the prison and an FBI agent, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

"This cover-up scheme failed," Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement.

"The Justice Department will continue to hold accountable law enforcement officials who engage in misconduct at every level, including those who carry out unlawful assaults, those who fail to intervene to stop them and those who try to cover up the violations," Clarke added.

U.S. Attorney Carlton S. Shier IV for the Eastern District of Kentucky said Nantell's actions were "disgraceful."

"Fortunately, he now faces the consequences of his utter betrayal of responsibility and callous attempts to undermine genuine law enforcement," he said in a statement.

Nantell was charged with two counts of obstruction of justice for misleading state investigators and one count of making false statements to an FBI agent. A federal jury convicted him in February after a four-day trial. His attorney declined to comment on Wednesday.

Dennis and Benish, who were members of the prison's internal affairs department, as well as Havens, previously pleaded guilty and were sentenced to 60, 27 and 15 months in prison, respectively. They each received two years of supervised release following their prison sentence.

Former prison supervisor Randy Nickell and prison officers Nathan Cantrell and Derek Mays also pleaded guilty to charges related to their role in the cover-up. They were each sentenced to one month in prison, followed by two years of supervised release. Nickell and Cantrell were also sentenced to five additional months of home confinement, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.