Memphis, Tennessee - Two former Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) Correctional Officers were sentenced Thursday for assaulting an inmate in violation of a federal civil rights statute. 

Nathaniel Griffin, 31, and Tanner Penwell, 24, were both sentenced to a year and a day in prison plus three years of supervised release. These are the final sentencings arising out of a staff assault of an inmate inside a cell in the Mental Health Unit at the Northwest Correctional Complex in Tiptonville, Tennessee. Four other former officers previously pleaded guilty in this case and were sentenced in federal court.

“When correctional officers abuse their authority, they erode the public’s trust in law enforcement and that is unacceptable,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “No correctional officer is above the law and the Justice Department will not tolerate any civil rights violations. We are committed to ensuring all correctional officers keep federal prisons safe and secure and that they carry out their duties with the utmost integrity.”

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee will continue to prioritize the criminal prosecution of public employees who violate the civil rights of others,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Joseph C. Murphy Jr. for the Western District of Tennessee. “Our goal is to ensure that everyone – no matter who they are or their standing in the community – is treated in accordance with the requirements of the US Constitution by public officials.”

“When correctional officers abuse their authority and harm inmates, it not only violates our civil rights laws, it undermines the criminal justice system as a whole,” said Special Agent in Charge Douglas M. Korneski of the FBI Memphis Field Office. “These sentences should send a clear message that the FBI makes it a priority to bring to justice any law enforcement officer who violates the civil rights of those they are sworn to protect.”

In 2019, Griffin and Penwell both pleaded guilty using unlawful force while acting under color of law. In connection with their guilty pleas, Griffin and Penwell admitted that they punched the inmate, identified in the charging documents by the initials R.T., after he had already been beaten by another officer. They further admitted that they punched R.T. even though he never posed a threat to them or the other correctional officers. In total, R.T. was punched more than 30 times by officers. All three officers who assaulted R.T. ultimately pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights offense.

This case was investigated by the Memphis Field Office of the FBI with the support of the TDOC, and was prosecuted by Trial Attorney Rebekah J. Bailey of the Civil Rights Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney David Pritchard of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee.