Former Jailer Pleads Guilty, Says Inmate Abuse Is "Encouraged" - - The News for South Mississippi

Former Jailer Pleads Guilty, Says Inmate Abuse Is "Encouraged"

A former Harrison County jailer pleaded guilty Monday to two felony counts related to the beating death of Jessie Lee Williams Jr. Williams was beaten at the Harrison County jail on February 4th and died two days later.

Regina Rhodes pleaded guilty and also entered a plea agreement to cooperate with the government in its ongoing investigation. U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton called it a "significant day" in a case where the government has been criticized for a slow-moving investigation.

Rhodes, 29, appeared before two federal judges Monday morning, waiving her right to a grand jury indictment, then pleading guilty to two federal felony charges. She admits she participated in the beating of Jessie Lee Williams Jr. The former jailer also says that beating was part of a "pattern of physical abuse of inmates" at the Harrison County Jail.

She pleaded guilty to depriving Williams of his civil rights by taking part in the assault against him. The second count says she covered it up.

"I think the fact that we now have obtained the plea of a jailer, she has pled guilty to two felony counts and has agreed to cooperate. She will of course have a wealth of knowledge about what happened. So, this is a significant development that should speed up the investigation," U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton said.

Rhodes told the judge she's being treated for mental illness - including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and anxiety attacks. Her attorney says she wants justice done.

"And Regina is here to atone for her involvement in the circumstances involving the unfortunate death of Mr. Williams. She has been cooperating to the extent required to see justice done," attorney Jim Halliday said.

Michael Crosby represents the Williams Family. He says the admissions of abuse at the jail uphold what's alleged in the pending civil lawsuit.

"The only thing that surprised me was that the truth got out this early. I thought we were going to have to fight a lot harder to get the truth out," Crosby said.

District Attorney Cono Caranna defended both the length of the investigation and the decision to proceed through federal court.

"By having them, we have a better law under which to proceed on the prosecution. And we've been willing to pay the price that some have delivered to us for taking that route," Caranna said.

The U.S. Attorney says more charges should be forthcoming.

"We will answer questions about who else may have been involved later, but hopefully sooner rather than later. And her plea and her cooperation will go a long way toward speeding that process up," Lampton said.

Regina Rhodes' allegations about ongoing abuse at the jail are included in the written plea agreement. Along with saying there's a pattern of abuse, she also says jailers were "encouraged" to participate in such behavior.

WLOX News spoke with Harrison County Sheriff George Payne Monday afternoon. He said, "We're continuing to cooperate and assist with this ongoing investigation."

Regina Rhodes will be sentenced October 16th. She faces a maximum 13 years in prison on the two felony counts.

by Steve Phillips

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