MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Attorneys for former Alabama Department of Corrections Lt. Willie Burks say the Department of Justice went too far indicting their client. Burks is charged with deprivation of civil rights and giving false statements to a grand jury.
Burks’ attorney, Julian McPhillips, says he supports civil rights laws that protect prisoners from cruel and unusual punishment. As for his problem: McPhillips says his client never subjected prisoners to abuse - but was indicted anyway.
The indictment alleges Burks was acting as a supervisor and didn’t intervene as he watched Sgt. Ulysses Oliver beat a prisoner.
“He did tell Sergeant Oliver to stop what he was doing,” McPhillips explained. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office has a video of him looking like he’s watching it, and the video doesn’t pick up his voice.”
McPhillips referenced an exhibit featuring a written statement about the incident, signed by Oliver and dated February 16, 2019.
“…[I] began to strike them in their leg area with my collapsible baton until I was told to stop by Correctional Lieutenant Willie Burks,” the statement says, in part.
McPhillips says Oliver made this statement regarding the incident before either came under scrutiny by the state or federal government.
“Oliver admits that Willie Burks told him to stop and when he told him to stop, he did stop," McPhillips stated.
Oliver has since pleaded guilty in this case. His signed plea agreement, dated April 24, 2019, cites Oliver made a false written statement at Burks’ request to say Burks told Oliver to stop. The court document also cites that Oliver failed to state that he struck the inmates with his fists and feet, citing one prisoner defecated after being subjected to the physical abuse.
“Additionally, the defendant wrote in his written statement that he struck the victims 'until I was told to stop by [Burks],” when, in truth and in fact, [Burks] had not ordered the defendant to stop," the plea agreement states. “The defendant included this false statement in his report at the request of [Burks] in order to falsely insulate [Burks] from future liability. The defendant admits the allegations are true.”
“He wasn’t there immediately when it began, he walked in on it,” McPhillips said of his client. “And when he saw what was going on, and he told him to stop.”
Burks is also charged with lying to the grand jury over whether he handcuffed an inmate too tightly.
“And some inmate came in and testified 'Oh, yes, he did put it on too tight one time, and therefore they call that perjury,” McPhillips said in disbelief.
Burks' attorneys say he was offered a plea deal, but chose to fight the charges instead.
“He’s not trying to hide anything, he’s an open book about what happened,” McPhillips said of Burks’ grand jury testimony.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on McPhillips’ remarks.