"Over 100" Jail Assaults Cited At Jailer's Plea Hearing

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Richmond told a federal magistrate he had evidence about a pattern of abuse at the Harrison Count jail. The abuse he outlined included "striking, punching, kicking, choking, and otherwise assaulting inmates."

One of the jailers tied to that abuse was Morgan Thompson. Thompson worked at the jail for 28 months. During that time, U.S. Attorneys said they could prove he struck, punched, and choked at least 100 inmates. And they said it was Thompson who restrained Jessie Lee Williams while Ryan Teel allegedly beat the inmate to death.

On Tuesday, the 29-year-old Thompson walked toward the federal courthouse in Gulfport wearing a pair of jeans and a leather jacket. Once inside, he heard the assistant U.S. Attorney explain how the former jailer conspired "to injure, threaten, and intimidate inmates" at the Harrison County jail. As part of the conspiracy, the U.S. Attorney said Thompson wrote reports that gave false, misleading and vague information about the attacks.

One of those attacks in question was February 4, 2006. According to the evidence, Thompson held Jessie Lee Williams down while Ryan Teel brutally beat the inmate with blows that eventually killed him.

"Thompson assisted Teel by helping to restrain Williams during part of the unjustified assault," Richmond told the judge.

Outside the courtroom, the defendant was tight-lipped.

"There's nothing I can say right now sir," he told a WLOX News reporter.

The information obtained by the U.S. Attorney's Office found that between 2004 and August 28, 2006. Thompson participated in at least 100 different inmate assaults at the Harrison County jail. And he knows about at least 100 other beatings.

"I did know of a few," he told our reporter as he walked away from the courthouse.

By signing a plea agreement to help the prosecution with future cases, the U.S. Attorney charged Thompson with just one count of conspiracy to deprive inmates of their civil rights. The charge carries a 10 year prison sentence. But Thompson's cooperation with prosecutors should reduce how long he's in custody.

Cono Caranna is Harrison County's District Attorney. He's also a special prosector for the U.S. Attorney in this case.

"The conspiracy charge that the former deputy pled guilty to demonstrates just how thorough this investigation is, how it's continuing and how it will go where ever the facts land us," he said.

A dozen friends and family members of Jessie Lee Williams sat through the court proceeding. They had nothing to say after it was over. The attorney for Williams' estate did talk.

"Those were terrible revelations," Michael Crosby said. "But it's the beginning of restoring a respect for law enforcement in this community."

Crosby has been rather outspoken since Williams' death, demanding quicker justice for the victim's family. He said the abuse cited in court proves what he's been arguing since February.

"It's very sad to hear these things. But it certainly corroborates what we said," he told the media. "But we do feel like the investigation is taking the right direction. And we think justice will be served in the end."

In a phone call with WLOX News, Sheriff George Payne said he was "cooperating with the investigation." And then he referred all other questions to the U.S. Attorney.

Based on the plea agreement, the federal conspiracy case is the only charge Morgan Thompson will face. The state gave up its right to prosecute the former Harrison County jailer. His sentencing is January 30, 2007.

Thompson is the second jailer to plead guilty in connection with the Williams beating. Regina Rhodes made her plea back in August in exchange for cooperating with prosectors.

Ryan Teel's case goes to trial early next year.