Former Atlanta correction officer indicted on excessive force, obstruction charges

Justin Newkirk of Locust Grove, a former correctional officer at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta (USP-Atlanta), has been arraigned on federal charges for allegedly using excessive force against an inmate and fabricating an incident report to justify his actions. The indictment, issued by a federal grand jury on June 13, marks a significant step towards holding Newkirk accountable for his alleged misconduct.

The charges against Newkirk were announced by U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan, who emphasized the importance of maintaining order and protecting inmates within the nation's correctional facilities. "Correctional officers perform a particularly challenging and critical job in maintaining order and protecting inmates in our nation's prisons and jails," Buchanan stated. "But this officer's alleged misconduct of abusing an inmate and then writing a detailed false report to conceal the crime demands accountability."

According to court documents and statements provided by U.S. Attorney Buchanan, Newkirk, 35, employed at USP-Atlanta, is accused of repeatedly using pepper spray on an inmate without any legal justification on March 17, 2022. Furthermore, it is alleged that Newkirk falsified a report in which he claimed that the use of pepper spray was necessary due to the inmate lunging at him with a closed fist, displaying signs of imminent violence. Such actions, if proven, would constitute excessive force and a deliberate attempt to cover up the incident.

James F. Boyersmith, Special Agent in Charge of the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General Miami Field Office, condemned the alleged misconduct, stating, "Newkirk allegedly used excessive force and then lied to try to cover up his conduct. The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General is committed to holding accountable those that abuse their power."

During the arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Judge Russell G. Vineyard, Newkirk pleaded not guilty to the charges. It is essential to note that an indictment contains only charges, and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.

The Department of Justice's Office of Inspector General is conducting the investigation into this case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Bret R. Hobson and Brent Alan Gray are responsible for prosecuting the case.