Four prison guards were arrested and charged Thursday with beating an inmate in a shower room after the inmate had hurled insults at a female corrections officer.
Federal investigators said the officers then tried to cover up the attack on the pretrial inmate when other officers tried to report the incident.
Marvin Wells, Stephen Rhodes and Kirby Gray are facing charges in connection with the alleged attack. The female officer, Kirby Mack, was also charged. They work at the Queens Private Correctional Facility, a private jail contracted by the federal government to hold inmates.
Investigators said the unidentified inmate was dragged, stripped and then hit in the neck repeatedly as his head slammed against the wall. The inmate was then forced to kneel and apologize to officer Mack for the comments about her appearance, prosecutors said.
The officers then threatened to kill the prisoner if he ever reported the incident, according to a court filing. The incident happened in April 2007.
With his head swelling from the impact, other inmates demanded he receive medical attention for his injuries. Investigators said when questioned, the officers filed false reports claiming the attack never happened.
The defendants were expected to be arraigned in federal court late Thursday.
A spokesman for the private prison company did no immediately return a call for comment.
U.S. Attorney Benton Campbell said, "This prosecution affirms our strong commitment to protecting the constitutional rights of individuals not to be subjected to unjustified and excessive force by officers whose duty it is to uphold the law."
If convicted on the excessive force and obstruction of justice counts, the officers could face a maximum of 20 years in prison.