Bureau of Prisons Employee Charged with Violating the Civil Rights of an Inmate Resulting in Death

A federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment charging a federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) officer with violating the civil rights of an inmate by showing deliberate indifference to the inmate’s serious medical needs, resulting in his death. 

The superseding indictment alleges that on Jan. 10, 2021, BOP Senior Officer Specialist Yolanda Blackwell, 45, of Chester, Virginia, was on duty and working in her official capacity at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Petersburg, Virginia. The superseding indictment charges that Blackwell willfully failed to ensure that the inmate, a 47-year-old man identified as W.W., was provided with necessary medical care, even though she knew that W.W. had serious medical needs. W.W. died in federal custody that day. 

Two other BOP officials, Lieutenant Shronda Covington and registered nurse Tonya Farley, were previously charged with civil rights and other offenses in connection with the inmate’s death in custody. Another BOP official, Lieutenant Michael Anderson, previously pleaded guilty for his role in the inmate’s death. 

If convicted, Blackwell faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, U.S. Attorney Jessica D. Aber for the Eastern District of Virginia and Inspector General Michael E. Horwitz of the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (DOJ-OIG) made the announcement.

DOJ-OIG investigated the case. 

Special Litigation Counsel Kathryn E. Gilbert and Trial Attorney Matthew Tannenbaum of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Garnett for the Eastern District of Virginia are prosecuting the case.

An indictment is merely an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.


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