Prison officer indicted in smuggling scheme never met co-defendants, lawyer says

Feds accuse employee, 2 inmates in contraband case at Atlanta’s U.S. Penitentiary

Two inmates and a Bureau of Prisons employee have been indicted and accused of conspiring to smuggle contraband into a federal prison in Atlanta.

But an attorney for the corrections officer accused of the crimes claims there is no way the inmates could have conspired with his client. In fact, he said, they had never met him.

The indictment alleges Patrick Shackelford and U.S. Penitentiary inmates Patrick Kirkman and Mitchell Arms conspired to smuggle contraband, including cellphones, tobacco and other drugs, into the medium-security prison via the institution’s bathroom plumbing. The plot began around June 2018 and continued through at least February 2019, the document claimed.

Attorney Paul Kish, who represents Shackelford, doesn’t dispute that drugs were being smuggled into the prison. But, he said, his client wasn’t involved in the operation.

“So far as I know, the other two inmates had never met Patrick Shackelford,” Kish told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Kish said his client has worked for the Bureau of Prisons for 15 years after a career in the military. He came to the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta as a corrections officer in January 2011 and works as a plumbing supervisor, the indictment said. In that position, Shackelford oversaw a group of inmates who had been hired to work on the prison’s plumbing.

“My understanding is that the Bureau of Prisons tries to reduce costs by employing inmates,” Kish said.

Two other inmates, referred to only as “Individual-1″ and “Individual-2″ throughout the indictment, worked under Shackelford’s supervision on the crew.

“By virtue of his position, Shackelford and the inmates he supervised had access throughout USP Atlanta, including areas that were not currently housing any inmates,” according to the indictment.

The indictment said “Individual-1″ smuggled contraband into the prison’s W-ward from a visitor’s bathroom “with Shackelford’s knowledge and assistance.”

“Shackelford and inmates working for him on the plumbing crew created a person-sized hole in a wall in W-ward, which led to a voided area between W-ward and a visitor’s bathroom,” the filing said. It also said Shackelford would escort the inmates to W-ward “to pick up the contraband on nearly a weekly basis.”

The recently unsealed indictment said the unnamed inmates stored drugs and contraband in the ceiling above Shackelford’s office before distributing them to other inmates, including Kirkman and Arms. Kirkman allegedly made at least four payments to Individual-1 via CashApp between October 2018 and January 2019. The corrections officer is accused of receiving $5,000 in cash and about 120 pain pills as payment for facilitating the alleged operation.

“The alleged actions of Shackelford not only fosters criminal activity inside and outside of the prison, but it also insults the integrity of every law enforcement officer who takes an oath to serve and protect the people in their communities,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Chris Hacker said.

The filing comes amid an investigation into alleged corruption at the U.S. Penitentiary that during the summer led to several federal officials being banned and more than a thousand inmates being moved out of the prison.

In June, the prison went into an institutional lockdown after receiving a “serious threat” and an emergency was declared, the AJC previously reported. Two days later, the lockdown was extended after investigators found a “prevalence of narcotics and cellular devices being used by the inmate population.”

More than 1,100 inmates were moved to federal prisons in other states during the investigation. By mid-August, the Bureau of Prisons had sent out memos to staff saying that four senior officers and a wage supervisor had been barred from the prison and would not be allowed entry “under any circumstances.”

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Kish said Shackelford was not among the officers barred from the prison. He said the charges against his client and the claims made by the other inmates are not supported by objective evidence.

“So far as I know, there is no money trail,” he said, noting that while the indictment lists in detail the means through which the other defendants exchanged funds, it doesn’t indicate how Shackelford was supposedly paid.

Kish also noted that Kirkman and Arms were not supervised by Shackelford. He said the two inmates did not know his client at all prior to their first court appearance together. And Kirkman and Arms made that evident in open court during a hearing, he said.

“They said so loudly ‘we don’t know this man’ that other lawyers had to urge them to be quiet,” Kish said.

Kish said he and his client are “looking forward” to a trial.

“This case is about a man who has never been in trouble before facing serious consequences for something he didn’t do,” Kish said.