Rick Gaston was once a jail warden. Recently, he ran the Harrison County jail's booking area. Now, Gaston has been linked to the ongoing inmate beating scandal. A federal grand jury indicted Gaston on two counts tied to inmate beatings. It also re-indicted Ryan Teel. And it implicated two other jailers who allegedly had roles in a pattern of inmate abuse.
Just before federal magistrate John Roper unsealed the five count indictment, the sun burst through oak trees outside Gulfport's federal courthouse. It was symbolic of a new light being shined on the Harrison County beatings investigation.
Cono Caranna is a special prosecutor working with the U.S. Attorney's Office.
"It lets everyone know, as we have said all along, this case has continued to be investigated," Caranna said.
This time, the spotlight was on Gaston. Right before he bonded out of jail, he looked at Judge Roper and said he was "not guilty sir" of the allegations against him. Moments later, Gaston jumped into his pickup truck and started to drive off before media cameras spotted him.
The special prosecutor noted that to this point, Gaston is the highest ranking deputy to be charged in connection with inmate beatings that included the 2006 death of Jessie Lee Williams.
"He had a position of responsibility and leadership," he said.
Yet, a federal grand jury indicted Gaston on one charge of conspiracy to intentionally use excessive force against inmates. And two counts of depriving an individual of his civil rights.
Also named in the indictment was Ryan Teel. He returned to court Friday after the grand jury added to charges to the two counts of inmate abuse he already faces. Teel is now accused of conspiracy to intentionally use excessive force against inmates, depriving Jessie Lee Williams of his civil rights, falsifying records, and violating the civil rights of another defendant. Jim Davis is Teel's attorney.
"We'll defend it just like we're defending the current charge and see where we end up," the defense attorney said.
Two other former Harrison County deputies were also indicted. Like Gaston and Teel, Daniel Evans and Karl Stolze are accused in the count one conspiracy charge.
Nine former deputies have now been implicated in the jailhouse beatings since Jessie Lee Williams died. Morgan Thompson, Dedri Caldwell, Thomas Wills, William Priest and Regina Rhodes have all pleaded guilty to inmate abuse charges, including the abuse that killed Jessie Lee Williams. They're still waiting to be sentenced.
Williams family members noted the ever expanding investigation as they left Friday's arraignment.
"Wait until the final results," one relative said.
Trials for Teel, Gaston and the two other former deputies start May 29th.
Teel has been in custody since his initial indictment last August. He'll remain under home confinement until the trial. The other three defendants were all released Friday on $25,000 bonds.
As part of his bond, Gaston was told he could no longer work for the Harrison County Sheriff's Department. Until Friday, he had been on administrative leave with pay.