A federal correctional officer from the U.S. Penitentiary at Hazelton was found guilty in the U.S. District Court in Clarksburg on Tuesday for lying to federal agents about alleged abuse of inmates by fellow staff members.
William Lewis, 34, of Elkins, was found guilty of two counts of “False Statement to Federal Agent,” a press release from U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld announced.
The jury acquitted Lewis of a third count, which also charged him with making a false statement.
Background information provided in September 2021 indictment documents state that in early 2020 several Hazelton inmates made allegations that correctional officers in the prison’s Special Housing Unit (SHU) were engaged in various forms of misconduct against inmates, including verbal threats, use of excessive force, and physical assaults.
The inmate complaints were collected by the Special Investigation Services (SIS) at the penitentiary, which is responsible for conducting internal investigations regarding prison inmates and staff.
According to the indictment, Lewis — a correctional officer at the facility — approached a SIS Lieutenant to share concerns about staff behavior in the SHU.
“In particular, [Lewis] advised that staff had assaulted inmates in the SHU and expressed concern that staff would eventually ‘kill an inmate,’” the indictment reads.
In response to the complaints, the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General initiated a civil rights investigation and special agents obtained and recorded a sworn statement from Lewis.
However, Lewis denied that any staff in the SHU at Hazelton had used excessive force against inmates during the interview, and was also found to have falsely told the investigator that he had “never told anybody” that he had “seen officers going too far,” Ihlenfeld’s release said.
Based on what was presented to them, the jury voted unanimously to find Lewis guilty of two of the three counts he was charged.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew R. Cogar prosecuted the case on behalf of the government.
Lewis was represented by defense attorneys Gregory Schillace of Schillace Law Offices in Clarksburg and Timothy McAfee of McAfee Law Firm in Virginia.
Schillace said they are obviously disappointed with the conviction, but hadn’t made any decisions on what might come next.
“I think probably this coming week he’ll make some decisions about what his plans are going forward,” Schillace said. “The judge released him post-conviction on the same pre-trial restraints and conditions so that is obviously a good sign — a good thing — and we will just have to evaluate where to go from there.”
Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas S. Kleeh, who presided over the trial, submitted an order following trial which currently has Lewis’ sentencing hearing scheduled on Jan. 18, 2023.
Lewis faces up to 5 years of incarceration and a fine of up to $250,000 for each count.