11th Cir. Upholds Guard’s |Murder Conviction

     (CN) — A former prison guard convicted of brutally murdering a prisoner was not coerced into making incriminating statements to the FBI, the 11th Circuit ruled.
     Michael Smith was a prison guard at Ventress, a state prison in Alabama built for 650 that housed over 1600 prisoners when he went to trial for beating a prisoner to death.
     In August 2010, Rocrast Mack got into a physical altercation with another prison guard, Officer Melissa Brown.
     When Smith responded to Brown’s call for help, he found her with blood on her mouth and some of her fingernails broken. He told her “don’t worry about it, we’re going to kill that motherfucker.”
     Smith then beat Mack with a fiberglass baton until the weapon broke, stomped on his head and body, and pepper-sprayed him at close range.
     Mack was then handcuffed by other officers, and taken to the nurse’s office on a stretcher because he was unable to walk.
     Smith followed the group to the nurse’s office, ordered the nurses to leave, then pulled Mack off the bed, and stomped on his head until he passed out.
     One of the other officers tried to stop Smith, but Smith said, “Trust me, I got this … I’ll take some days for my officers.”
     Mack died the following morning of his traumatic brain injuries.
     Smith immediately began covering up his actions, and instructed other prison officers to submit statements indicating that Mack was not handcuffed, and fought continuously from his cell to the nurse’s office.
     In a subsequent federal investigation, Smith freely gave FBI agents his version of events. He was advised of his rights, and granted the FBI access to prior statements he had made to state officials, knowing that they could be used against him in a criminal case.
     A jury convicted Smith of murder in a six-day trial, and he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
     On appeal, Smith argues that his statements to the FBI were improperly coerced in violation of the rule set forth in Garrity v. New Jersey that “a public employee may not be coerced into surrendering his Fifth Amendment privilege by threat of being fired or subjected to other sanctions.”
     The 11th Circuit affirmed Smith’s convictions Friday.
     “Because we conclude that Michael Smith voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waived his Garrity rights when he spoke to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation following his termination by the Alabama Department of Corrections, we hold that the government did not violate the Fifth Amendment when it used his prior statements in a federal criminal investigation concerning the beating and death of an inmate.”
     Smith also cannot show that he subjectively believed he would be fired if he refused to submit an incident report to the Alabama Department of Corrections, the court said.
     “Failure to comply with the ADOC’s regulations can lead to progressive disciplinary sanctions. But where there is no direct threat, the mere possibility of future discipline is not enough to trigger Garrity protection,” Judge Adalberto Jordan said, writing for the three-judge panel.
     “Simply put, Mr. Smith knew the rights he was giving up, and he realized the consequences of waiving those rights,” the 27-page opinion states.

%d bloggers like this: