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Florida And Georgia Correctional Officers Plead Guilty To Civil Rights Violations

Three correctional officers have pleaded guilty to civil rights violations that took place at a Florida institution.

Ethan Burkett, 25, Live Oak, FL, Coty Michael Wiltgen, 31, Live Oak, FL, and William Story Shackelford, 24, Valdosta, GA, have pleaded guilty to beating an inmate in their custody, in violation of the inmate’s civil rights.  

Each faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison.

According to court documents, on March 3, 2020, while on duty as correctional officers at the Hamilton Correctional Institution Annex (HCI) in Jasper, Florida, Burkett, Wiltgen, and Shackelford struck an inmate multiple times while he was lying handcuffed on the ground.  

Specifically, Wiltgen and Shackelford escorted the victim to an outdoor area at HCI and assaulted the victim following an earlier altercation involving the victim and Burkett.  The victim had pushed Burkett off his path while he was chasing after another inmate inside a dormitory.  

When the victim then tried to walk away after pushing Burkett, Wiltgen sprayed the victim with pepper spray.  The victim then laid down and offered no resistance as Wiltgen handcuffed him.  

Wiltgen and Shackelford then escorted the cooperative and compliant victim out of the dormitory to an outdoor area at HCI, out of camera view, and made the victim fall to the ground.  Shackelford then held the victim down on the ground with his knee in the victim’s back to keep him from moving and struck the victim in the side.  

Wiltgen kicked the victim in the face approximately 15 times.  When Burkett arrived outside, he went up to the victim and hit him twice with an open hand to the upper back and punched the victim’s body.  The victim was screaming during the assault and was knocked unconscious by Wiltgen kicking him in the face. 

The officers’ actions caused the inmate to suffer multiple injuries.  

Burkett, Wiltgen, and Shackelford knew that their use of force against the victim was unnecessary and excessive, counter to their training, and completely unjustified at the time that they used such force and/or watched others use such force against the victim.

This case was investigated by the Florida Department of Corrections Office of Inspector General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Ashley Washington.

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