OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A former supervisor at Kay County Detention Center in Oklahoma City was convicted in federal court for enabling white supremacist inmates to attack and injure Black inmates, as well as ordering excessive force against an inmate who criticized him.
The jury convicted 53-year-old Matthew Ware of violating the civil rights of three pretrial detainees that were being held at the Detention Center, according to U.S. Department of Justice officials.
Ware placed two pretrial detainees in “substantial risk of serious harm,” and ordered a corrections officer to use excessive force against a third pretrial detainee.
“This high-ranking corrections official had a duty to ensure that the civil rights of pretrial detainees in his custody were not violated,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The defendant abused his power and authority by ordering subordinate corrections officers to violate the constitutional rights of several pretrial detainees. The Civil Rights Division will continue to hold corrections officials accountable when they violate the civil rights of detainees and inmates.”
Ware was a lieutenant at the Detention Center on May 18, 2017, when he ordered corrections officers serving under him to move two Black pretrial detainees, D’Angelo Wilson and Marcus Miller, to a cell row containing white supremacist inmates whom Ware knew were a danger to Wilson and Miller, according to DOJ officials.
He later that same day ordered detention officers to unlock Wilson’s and Miller’s jail cells and the white supremacist inmates’ cells at the same time the following morning.
With the jail cells unlocked, the white supremacist inmates attacked Wilson and Miller.
Both Wilson and Miller were injured in the attack. Wilson suffered a facial laceration that needed seven stitches to close, DOJ officials said.
Ware also ordered excessive force against pretrial detainee Christopher Davis on Jan. 31, 2018.
DOJ officials said Ware was a captain at the jail when Davis sent him a note criticizing how he ran the jail.
Ware retaliated by ordering a corrections officer to restrain Davis against a bench in a stretched out position, with his left wrist bound to the far-left side of the bench and his right wrist bound to the far-right side of the bench. Davis was left restrained in that position for 90 minutes, which physically injured him, DOJ officials said.
Attorney Mark Hammons said his client and former jail employee Stephanie Wright reported this incident to jail leaders and they didn’t address it. He says she then reported it to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the FBI, and was fired by the jail for doing so.
“This is something that my client Stephanie Wright had reported, and, frankly, she’s kind of the hero of this story,” Hammons said. “Stephanie Wright was the only person in the Kay County Justice Authority system that was willing to report this incident. She reported it to the OSBI and FBI. Without her, there would have been no enforcement of the law. And yet, despite the fact that she’s the hero of the story, she was punished by the people involved at the authority for her activities, which is a real miscarriage of justice. She reported all of the incidents that were prosecuted in this. And yet, despite the fact that she’s the hero of the story, she was punished by the people involved at the authority for her activities. This is a vindication about the importance of her actions. And she was on an island. She was the one who was willing to do this, to take the heat for it. And she’s the one who paid the price for doing the right thing.”
Ware faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine up to $250,000 for each civil rights violation. He will be sentenced in approximately 90 days.
The Oklahoma City FBI Field Office investigated Ware’s violations. Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia Barry of the Western District of Oklahoma and Trial Attorney Laura Gilson of the Civil Rights Division prosecuted the case.
“If you have people who are charged with enforcing the law who feel like they are above the law then we just really don’t have any confidence that the judicial, legal system is going to work,” Hammons said. “Well, obviously the FBI and the Justice Department took this very, very seriously as they should and prosecuted it because this kind of offense undercuts the confidence we have in our entire system of justice. You can’t have people in law enforcement who consider themselves above the law.”