Former Rockbridge County Regional Jail superintendent sentenced on civil rights, bribery costs

Published Friday May. 14, 2021, 10:02 a.m.

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Prison police(© methaphum –

John Marshall Higgins, the former superintendent of Rockbridge County Regional Jail, was sentenced this week to 51 months in prison on charges of federal civil rights violations and public corruption.

According to court records, 62-year-old Higgins, a former member of the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors, was convicted of three civil liberties cases in 2020 after a six-day banking trial for denying medical care to one inmate and failing to protect two inmates physical abuse, a postal and honest service fraud conspiracy, and two postal and honest service frauds to accept valuables in exchange for official acts.

“Higgins violated the public trust that was placed in him as a prison guard. He repeatedly interfered in certain judgments passed by the Virginia courts and took matters into his own hands, allowing certain inmates to be abused but treating another inmate favorably in order to enrich himself, “he said Acting US attorney Bubar today. “As the court found today, this behavior was just egregious and lasted for years. Today’s significant penalty should act as a deterrent to any civil servant who might be tempted to administer justice with less than legal fairness. I thank the FBI, Virginia State Police, the Rockbridge County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, and the law enforcement team for their tireless work in bringing Higgins to justice. “

“The responsibility for investigating violations of civil rights and the color of federal law rests with the FBI, regardless of status in our community or law enforcement agency,” said Stanley M. Meador, special agent in charge of the Richmond Division of the FBI today. “In his official capacity, Mr. Higgins ignored the medical needs and safety of inmates while benefiting personally by helping another. A clear abuse of his position and a catalyst for distrust of law enforcement agencies – which cannot and should not be tolerated. We are fully committed to protecting the rights of all citizens and appreciate the partnership of the Virginia State Police, the Rockbridge County Commonwealth Prosecutor, and the Western District of Virginia, the United States Prosecutor’s Office, throughout this investigation. “

According to the evidence presented at his trial, Higgins, as superintendent of the prison, was unable to protect the rights of inmates of the regional prison by failing to medically treat one inmate and protect that inmate from physical abuse by other inmates resulting in bodily harm. On several occasions, Higgins was made aware of abusive behavior towards certain inmates and nothing was done to prevent the abuse. Once, Higgins refused to see an inmate with potentially serious injuries for three days by a doctor. The inmate was not given medical attention until other staff sent the inmate to the hospital emergency room.

In addition, evidence showed that although Higgins was superintendent of the prison, he agreed to accept valuable items from the family and friends of an inmate of the Rockbridge Regional Jail in order to give the inmate preferential treatment. These family members and friends provided payments and other items of at least $ 3,000 to a scholarship fund run by Higgins and his family. The evidence showed that the inmate, who was sentenced to three years in the Department of Corrections for vehicle manslaughter in exchange for these payments, received substantial privileges while incarcerated at Rockbridge Regional Jail. These privileges and preferential treatment included, but not limited to, unsupervised contact visits with family and friends in the prison and on a Rockbridge County farm, and deliveries of Higgins ice cream to inmates. At the inmate’s request, Higgins also improved the prison’s cable package and gave the inmate full access to prison facilities and Higgins’ personal office. Eventually, on Higgins’ orders, the inmate was never sent to the Virginia Department of Justice to serve his sentence as mandated by policies and procedures, but instead served his entire sentence at the Rockbridge Regional Jail.

Gary Andrew Hassler, the prison’s former head nurse, was also convicted as part of the investigation. Hassler was convicted in 2020 after a lawsuit that blocked an investigation into civil rights abuses at Rockbridge Regional Prison by forging a document. Evidence in court showed that on March 5, 2017, Hassler forged a document alleging that an inmate in the prison had refused medical treatment. Hassler was sentenced to twelve months and one day in prison.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Virginia State Police are investigating the case. The Rockbridge County Commonwealth Prosecutor’s Office assisted the investigation.

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