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Former Rockbridge County jail superintendent convicted of accepting payment to improve an inmate’s living, denying another inmate medical care

Higgins also provided deliveries of ice cream to the inmate as preferential treatment

Former Rockbridge County jail superintendent convicted of accepting money to improve an inmate’s living, denying another inmate medical care
Former Rockbridge County jail superintendent convicted of accepting money to improve an inmate’s living, denying another inmate medical care

The man who used to run Rockbridge County’s jail is now a felon himself.

John Marshall Higgins, the former superintendent of the Rockbridge County Regional Jail, and a former member of the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors, was convicted Sunday on multiple charges related to federal civil rights violations and public corruption.

Higgins, along with Gary Andrew Hassler, 58, the former head nurse at the jail, were indicted in August 2018 and charged with multiple federal crimes related to Higgins’ failure to protect inmates, denial of medical care for an inmate’s serious medical needs resulting in bodily injury, and charges related to Higgins’ use of his position of authority at the Rockbridge Regional Jail to improperly enrich himself.

Hassler was charged with falsifying documents to obstruct a federal investigation.

While superintendent, Higgins accepted things of value from the family and friends of an inmate serving a three-year sentence at the jail in exchange for giving that inmate preferential treatment.

They provided at least $3,000 in payments and other items to a scholarship fund operated by Higgins and his family. The evidence demonstrated that in exchange for these payments, the inmate, who was convicted of vehicular manslaughter, received significant privileges while at the jail.

Here’s some of what the evidence showed this inmate gained:

  • Unsupervised contact visits with family and friends at the jail, as well as at a farm in Rockbridge County
  • Ice cream deliveries from Higgins
  • Higgins upgraded the jail’s cable package at the inmate’s request
  • Unfettered access to jail facilities, including Higgins’ personal office

Finally, at Higgins’ direction, the inmate was never sent to the Virginia Department of Corrections to serve his sentence, as dictated by policy and procedure, but instead served his entire sentence at the Rockbridge Regional Jail.

Also, while employed as superintendent of the jail, on multiple occasions Higgins was made aware of abusive conduct towards certain inmates and did nothing to prevent the abuse from occurring.

On one occasion, Higgins refused to allow an inmate with potentially serious injuries to be seen by a physician for three days, according to evidence presented at the trial.

The inmate was only provided medical care after other staff members sent the inmate to the hospital emergency room.

The court has not yet set a sentencing date.


About the Author:

Jeff Williamson arrived at WSLS 10 in March 2016.