Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore, U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg for the Southern District of Florida, and Robert F. Lasky, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, today announced federal charges against juvenile detention officer Antwan Lenard Johnson arising from his role in the August 2015 beating and death of a 17-year-old juvenile inmate (E.R.) at the Miami-Dade Regional Juvenile Detention Center (JDC) in Miami, Florida.
“The Justice Department will continue to aggressively prosecute corrections officers who exploit their position of power and violate the civil rights of individuals in their custody,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division.
“The United States Constitution protects every person in this country, including those who are detained in juvenile detention facilities,” said U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg. “It is an honor and privilege to work with the many outstanding agents and officers who are part of our law enforcement community. These brave individuals put their lives on the line every day to protect us all and make our communities safer. But we are committed to bringing to justice the small minority of law enforcement officials when they abuse their authority and violate the civil rights of another.”
“Violations of civil rights by government officials cannot be tolerated as it undermines the public’s trust,” said Robert F. Lasky, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Miami. “The FBI is committed to working with our partners to safeguard the civil rights of all.”
Johnson, 35, of Miami-Dade County, was charged with conspiracy to violate E.R.’s civil rights under color of law, which resulted in E.R.’s death, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 241; and deprivation of E.R.’s civil rights, under color of law, which resulted in bodily injury and E.R.’s death, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 242. If convicted, Johnson faces a maximum statutory sentence of life in prison for each charge.
E.R. was a 17-year-old juvenile who had been arrested and was subsequently taken to the JDC on Aug. 28, 2015. He was being detained pending further order of the State Court and had not been convicted of the crime for which he had been arrested.
The indictment alleges that Johnson operated a commonly utilized bounty system in order to help ensure obedience and officer respect at the JDC. Johnson encouraged and induced juvenile detainees, in exchange for rewards and privileges, to forcibly assault E.R. In exchange for attacking E.R., Johnson rewarded the juveniles with extra recreational time and snacks. As a result of being held at the JDC, witnessing events at the facility, and in some cases being actual victims of the bounties, the juveniles were aware of the bounty culture. They knew that they would not be punished or disciplined by Johnson, but in fact rewarded, if they followed his directives.
The indictment alleges that, on Aug. 30, 2015, Johnson worked in Module 9 at the JDC, during the 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shift. Based on E.R.’s statements and behavior during dinner at the JDC cafeteria, Johnson communicated to juveniles that he wanted them to forcibly assault E.R. Various juveniles agreed, which caused E.R. to fear for his immediate safety and stand away from the other juveniles prior to, and while returning, from the JDC cafeteria to Module 9.
According to the indictment, Johnson directed juveniles to delay the attack on E.R. until they all returned to Module 9. Upon returning to Module 9 with the juveniles, Johnson promptly walked out of view of E.R. and the other juveniles. At the same time, a juvenile punched E.R. in the face as he attempted to sit down in a chair. Numerous other juveniles immediately joined the attack and punched and kicked E.R., continuing their assault, even when E.R. fell to the ground.
The indictment further alleges that after E.R. was escorted out of Module 9 to the JDC medical department, Johnson promptly released the juveniles in Module 9 from their cells and allowed them to watch television as a reward and privilege. Johnson also bumped fists with the juvenile who initiated the attack on E.R. Johnson later caused certain Module 9 juveniles to receive snacks as a reward and privilege for participating in the attack on E.R.
According to the indictment, E.R. was later transported from the JDC to Holtz Children’s Hospital in Miami, Florida. On Aug. 31, 2015, E.R. was pronounced dead due to bodily injuries suffered during the attack.
An indictment merely contains allegations and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
This case was investigated by the FBI Miami Area Corruption Task Force. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean T. McLaughlin and Trial Attorney Samantha Trepel of the Civil Rights Division.