A new report by The Associated Press reveals disturbing information about Bureau of Prisons official Thomas Ray Hinkle. Despite having a violent past abusing Black inmates—stemming from allegations made in 1995—he has been promoted at least nine times. In June, he was selected by the Bureau of Prisons and Justice Department to become acting regional director.
“At least three inmates, all Black, have accused Hinkle of beating them while he was a correctional officer at a Florence, Colorado federal penitentiary in 1995 and 1996. The allegations were documented in court documents and formal complaints to prison officials. In recent years, colleagues say, Hinkle has talked about beating inmates while a member of a violent, racist gang of guards called ‘The Cowboys.’”
The piece about went into more detail about Hinkle’s deplorable behavior:
“One inmate said he felt terrified as Hinkle and another guard dragged him up a stairway and slammed him into walls. Another said Hinkle was among guards who threw him to a concrete floor, spat on him and used racist language toward him. A third said Hinkle slapped him and held him down while another guard sexually assaulted him.”
Even though a minimum of 11 guards affiliated with “The Cowboys” were charged with federal crimes, Hinkle wasn’t. The group beat dozens of inmates that were primarily Black. Ultimately, three were convicted and imprisoned. Four others were acquitted and an additional four pleaded guilty and said they would cooperate.
However, Hinkle was promoted twice before the criminal investigation was even over. He told AP: “With the support of my friends, family, and colleagues, and through professional help, I have made the most of my opportunity for a second chance to serve the Bureau of Prisons honorably over the past twelve years.”
Hinkle added: “I cannot speak to why some are dredging up history from so many years ago, but my distant past does not reflect who I am today. My story I share with my fellow staff has more to do with hope and change after getting help and not self-medicating with alcohol. We are all human and make mistakes. There is no shame in admitting our problems and seeking help.”
He also denied using racist language and recent allegations of misconduct (which includes silencing a whistleblower). The agency’s new director, Colette Peters, insists says the Bureau of Prisons stands by Hinkle’s leadership.
“[He] has openly acknowledged his past mistakes, gone through the employee discipline program, sought professional help and reframed his experiences as learning opportunities for others,” Peters stated. “Today, I am confident he has grown into an effective supervisor for our agency.”
Despite calls for Hinkle to be terminated immediately, Justice Department policy mandates that he must retire next May when he turns 57.