Hassler Given One Year

‘There Has To Be Consequences,’ Judge Tells Former Jail Head Nurse

Former Rockbridge Regional Jail head nurse Gary A. Hassler, found guilty on one count of falsifying a document with the intent to obstruct an FBI investigation, was sentenced to 12 months and one day in federal prison Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s not too much to ask to do the right thing,” Judge Norman K. Moon said of the mistreatment of inmates by those in sworn jail positions. “There has to be consequences.”

Hassler will self-report to prison to serve the sentence, which will be followed by a supervised release of one year. Moon recommended in court Tuesday that Hassler serve his sentence at the Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, N.C.

Hassler, charged with two counts of falsifying a document, was found guilty in July on one count related to falsifying a jail incident report in conspiracy with former Rockbridge Regional Jail superintendent John Higgins to violate the civil rights of an inmate by failing to both protect him from abuse and provide medical treatment.

Inmate Robert Eugene Clark was found to be a victim of beatings at the jail the morning of Feb. 28, 2017. Clark was taken to the Rockbridge County Sheriff’s Office where his injuries were photographed and he was moved to a different cell block shortly thereafter.

Witness testimony in Hassler’s trial indicated Higgins did not want Clark to receive medical care, and he was denied treatment until jail staff took Clark to the hospital on March 3. Later that day Virginia State Police began an investigation of jail administration for inmate abuse and civil rights violations.

Though he was not scheduled to work March 5, Hassler went into his office that Sunday to make two late entry reports about Clark. Hassler made a late-entry in the jail nurse pass-along log alleging Clark refused medication on Feb. 28. Hassler also filed a late-entry incident report stating Clark denied medical treatment on March 1.

Hassler recorded the location of his interaction with Clark as cellblock 500 in the incident report. By March 1, Clark had been moved to cell-block 606 following the news of the beatings within the jail, making Hassler’s report incorrect, an error the prosecution argued he made in the act of “covering up” for Higgins. Recordings of Hassler’s interview with state investigators in May 2017, submitted as evidence in the trial, revealed Hassler affirming investigators questioning if someone had asked that he make the report, saying: “I — yeah.”

The jury ultimately found Hassler guilty of falsifying the incident report as it related to impeding the investigation of Higgins’ mistreatment of inmates.

“This is a very sad situation,” Moon said Tuesday. “It is also a very serious offense. People in jail are entitled to human respect and adequate medical care.”

“The biggest thing is sending a message to other people,” Moon added.

The federal jury in July acquitted Hassler on the second charge of falsifying a document as it related to the nurse pass-along log. During the trial, the inmate medication administration report sheet was found to have been signed off on by jail nurses ahead of pill distribution or “pill call.” Clark’s acceptance of medication was forged ahead of time, allowing reasonable doubt about Hassler’s claim of Clark’s refusal of medication on Feb. 28.

Hassler declined to make a statement at his sentencing hearing. His attorney asked Judge Moon to sentence him to probation, rather than a prison term, but in lieu of that to give him the minimum sentence of one year and a day. That sentence, he said, would be in line with sentencing guidelines based on Hassler’s age, health conditions, employment history and criminal record, of which he has no prior convictions.

“Though he was convicted of lying to investigators,” Hassler’s attorney said, “He gave information that helped form the basis of the charges against Higgins.”

“Evidence shows that his obstruction of justice in the matter is important,” U.S. Attorney Matthew Miller said at Hassler’s sentencing, recommending Judge Moon keep Hassler’s offences in perspective.

“The target of government’s investigation has always been Higgins.”

Higgins is scheduled to go on trial beginning Dec. 9 for 21 charges related to the refusal of medical care for inmates, his acceptance of bribes from an inmate’s family and unlawful transactions with the jail pharmaceutical supplier.

The News-Gazette

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