- Associated Press - Thursday, November 17, 2016

GREENVILLE, Miss. (AP) - A former guard at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman pleaded guilty Thursday to covering up the 2014 beating of a prisoner by two other guards.

Deonte Pate, 23, pleaded guilty to submitting a false report and lying to the FBI before U.S. District Judge Debra Brown.

Pate, Lawardrick Marsher and Robert Sturdivant were indicted in June. Prosecutors allege that Marsher punched a prisoner repeatedly and Sturdivant kicked the prisoner. Prosecutors say Pate saw the fight at Parchman’s Unit 29, including Marsher returning to punch a bleeding inmate repeatedly in the face while the inmate, identified only as K.H., was pinned down and not resisting.

Prosecutors say Marsher, Sturdivant, Pate and a fourth guard gathered in a room to write reports. Sturdivant, a sergeant, told Pate to use Sturdivant’s report as the official story, although it “falsely minimized and falsely justified the force the officers used.” Pate told that version of events to investigators, including the FBI. Officials say Sturdivant later told Pate that if he retracted the falsehoods, he would be fired.

“When officers abuse inmates - or in this case lie to cover up abuse - their actions offend the law and undermine the integrity of our justice system,” said Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

Pate is scheduled to be sentenced March 16. He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Marsher, 28, and Sturdivant, 47, are scheduled for trial Feb. 6. Each faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted.

Corrections spokeswoman Grace Simmons Fisher said the department investigated and called the FBI.

“We hold our officers to high standards, and referring matters to the FBI will continue to be MDOC’s practice,” Corrections Commissioner Marshall Fisher said in a statement.

Sturdivant retired in June after 23 years with the agency. Marsher was fired in August 2014.

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