A federal court has sentenced a former Oklahoma supervisory correctional officer to nearly four years in prison for violating the rights of several Black pre-trial detainees.
The officer was convicted earlier in the spring for orchestrating an attack on the men by white supremacists when he instructed his subordinates to unlock cell doors within a unit of the prison — a command that left the African-American men vulnerable to physical race-based violence.
According to a Dec. 5 announcement by the Department of Justice, Lt. Matthew Ware, a former Kay County Detention Center officer, was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for violating the civil rights of three pretrial detainees held in the facility he supervised.
In response to the sentencing, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said, “This defendant is being held accountable for abusing his position of power and authority to, among other things, facilitate an attack carried out by white supremacists on a Black inmate.”
Adding, “This sentence handed down reflects the seriousness of the defendant’s actions and ensures accountability for his unlawful conduct. The Justice Department will continue to hold corrections officials accountable, including those in leadership positions, when they willfully violate the constitutional rights of detainees and inmates in their custody and control.”
An Oklahoma jury convicted the 53-year-old on Apr. 15 of willfully depriving two pretrial detainees, D’Angelo Wilson and Marcus Miller, of their right to be free from a corrections officer’s deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm. He was also found guilty of willfully depriving a third pretrial detainee, Christopher Davis, almost a year later, of the right to be free from a corrections officer’s use of excessive force in 2017.
At the time of the conviction, Clarke stated Ware “had a duty to ensure that the civil rights of pretrial detainees in his custody were not violated,” but did not.
“The defendant abused his power and authority by ordering subordinate corrections officers to violate the constitutional rights of several pretrial detainees,” Clarke said.
U.S. Attorney Robert J. Troester for the Western District of Oklahoma wrote in a prepared statement that “a jury found that Mr. Ware abused his position of power over the individuals in his custody. Today’s sentence holds him accountable for that conduct.”
“Mr. Ware violated the laws he was sworn to uphold, betrayed the public trust, and dishonored the many brave corrections officials who lawfully perform their important work each day,” Troester stated.
During the trial, according to court documents, Ware ordered lower-ranking corrections officers on May 18, 2017, to move two detainees to a cell row predominantly populated by white supremacists, knowing the men would be in danger because of their race.
After the men were relocated, Ware commanded the officers “to unlock the jail cells of Wilson and Miller, and those other white supremacist inmates at the same time the following morning.”
Both men were subsequently assaulted by the racists, suffering physical injury. One of the men, Wilson, sustained a facial laceration so bad he had to seek medical attention, receiving seven stitches to close up the gash.
Ware was appointed as acting captain of the facility after the incident in 2017.
In this capacity, as acting captain, Ware made another order that would compromise the safety of a Black man.
On Jan. 31, 2018, he told a lower-ranking corrections officer at KCDC to “restrain another pretrial detainee, Christopher Davis, in a stretched-out position — with Davis’ left wrist restrained to the far-left side of the bench and his right wrist restrained to the far-right side of the bench — in retaliation for Davis sending Ware a note that criticized how Ware ran the KCDC.”
According to testimony and evidence like that of former jail employee Stephanie Wright, who reported the incident, Davis was placed in a “crucifixion-type position” in handcuffs for what the courts state was an hour and a half. The man also sustained injuries as a result of cruel and retaliatory torture.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Edward J. Gray said Ware’s behavior does not reflect the conduct of most workers in corrections, calling his actions “disgraceful.”
“The vast majority of the men and women working in correctional institutions do their jobs honorably on a daily basis. However, Mr. Ware’s disgraceful actions undermined the public’s trust and deprived the detainees of their civil rights under the U.S. Constitution,” Gray said.
“Rest assured,” Gray continued with a promise, “The FBI will work tirelessly alongside our law enforcement partners to ensure the civil liberties of every American are protected.”
According to the Anti-Defamation League, “white supremacist gangs” are thriving in jail and prison populations.
Currently, the ADL states there are 75 different sects of the hate groups, predominantly male, in at least 38 states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, as well as in major county jails.
Some of the names of these groups are broken down according to prison by acronyms and coded names that are sects of the Aryan Brotherhood, Ghostface Gangsters, Nazi Lowriders, Brotherhood, and Family Vales to name a few.
The Oklahoma Aryan Brotherhood is one of the most prominent white supremacist prison gangs in the Oklahoma prison system. It is unclear which gang attacked Wilson and Miller.