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4 Alabama corrections officers indicted, accused of excessive force, obstruction

The indictments come a week after the Justice Department said there appeared to be a pattern of excessive force against prisoners in state prisons for men.

Four Alabama corrections officers were indicted Tuesday on charges that they beat a prisoner on the ground or filed false reports about it, federal prosecutors said.

Sgt. Keith Finch and corrections officers and Jordan Thomas and Kevin Blaylock are charged with deprivation of rights under color of law in the 2018 incident at the Bibb Correctional Facility in Brent, which is around 40 miles southwest of Birmingham.

Thomas and Sgt. Orlanda Walker are also charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly filing false reports claiming that once the prisoner was on the ground "all force ceased," the Justice Department said in a statement.

In reality, Thomas, Finch and Blaylock allegedly "kicked the prisoner and hit him multiple times with their batons," after he was already on the ground and surrounded, the Justice Department said.

Walker is not accused of striking the prisoner, but is Thomas' supervisor and authorities say they filed false reports about it.

Federal court records for the corrections officers did not appear to be online Tuesday night, and it was not clear if they had attorneys who could speak on their behalf.

The federal grand jury indictments were returned less than a week after the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division released the results of an investigation that "found reasonable cause to believe that there is a pattern or practice of using excessive force against prisoners in Alabama's prisons for men."

In that 28-page report released Thursday, investigators alleged that corrections employees often failed to properly document or report uses of force.

It cited an incident at the Bibb Correctional Facility in which a prisoner suffered fractures to both arms after being struck with a baton.

The incident report mentioned the prisoner going to the health care unit "but altogether fails to document the extent of the injuries," the Justice Department report says.

It is not clear if the indictments announced Tuesday are connected to that incident mentioned in the report. Bibb Correctional houses over 1,800 prisoners, according to the report. The Justice Department investigation into conditions at the state's 13 prisons for men began in 2016.

In the incident that led to Tuesday's indictments, a prisoner who was not identified in a news release ran out of his cell on Sept. 12, 2018, and he was taken to the ground by two officers and was in a fetal position on the ground surrounded.

Thomas, Finch and Blaylock allegedly kicked and struck him with batons while he was on the ground, according to the Justice Department.

Requests for comment from the Alabama Department of Corrections and U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Alabama were not returned Tuesday night.

Finch, Thomas, and Blaylock face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison on the deprivation of rights charge if convicted, and Thomas and Walker could face a maximum of 20 years in prison if convicted on obstruction of justice, the department said.