On Thursday, two corrections officers from West Virginia entered guilty pleas to a felony conspiracy charge connected to the death of an inmate through beating. The incident has led to increased attention to the conditions and fatalities at the facility.
Andrew Fleshman and Steven Wimmer, both employees of the Southern Regional Jail, made the pleas in a hearing held in U.S. District Court in Beckley. This offense is punishable by up to a decade in prison, and their respective sentences have been scheduled for February 22nd.
A criminal information was issued against the officers for conspiring to deny Quantez Burks’ right to due process of law. Burks, aged 37, was in the Beaver jail on a wanton endangerment charge when he was taken into custody and passed away less than 24 hours later in March 2022.
Court records indicate that Burks attempted to pass an officer to leave his living space. He was then brought to a questioning space, where Wimmer and Fleshman attacked Burks while he was restrained and could not fight back. Following the assault, Burks was taken to a prison cell in a different housing unit, where a second attack occurred, according to prosecutors.
The cause of death determined by the state medical examiner was due to natural causes, leading the Burks family to arrange for a private autopsy. At a press conference last year, the attorney for the family revealed that the second autopsy revealed multiple spots of blunt force trauma on the body of the deceased.
This week, a federal magistrate judge declared that records were intentionally destroyed and a default judgment should be granted in a class-action civil rights lawsuit concerning the Southern Regional Jail. The lawsuit, which existing and past inmates brought, brought up the issue of deplorable conditions, such as a shortage of food and water, overcrowding, and brawls that were allowed to go on until someone was hurt.
Jim Justice, a Republican Governor, reported that the state’s Department of Homeland Security stated to him that their probe into jail conditions discovered no proof of ill-treatment. Kimberly Burks, the mother of Burks, declared to Justice during a town hall in Beckley that the state’s findings were “untrue.”
It was reported by various news sources that there were more than a dozen fatalities at the Southern Regional Jail in the past year.