ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — A judge’s ruling in the case of John Marshall Higgins, the former Rockbridge Regional Jail superintendent found guilty of several charges, reveals more details in the case.
The court document along with the trial transcript describes physical abuse that took place inside the walls of the Rockbridge Regional Jail and the failure of Higgins to put a stop to it.
According to the documents, a man incarcerated at Rockbridge Regional Jail sounded the alarm in October 2016 when he described the abuse to his father. The offender told his father that the victim had been forced to “drink urine, and eat food mixed with feces and food mixed with pubic hair.”
The judge, in his memorandum opinion of the case, found the man’s trial testimony to be credible.
The offender also told Higgins that “‘if something didn’t happen, something ‘horrible’ would happen to the man, because they were ‘really beating on the dude’.”
One of the men accused of taking part in the abuse testified at the trial, saying over the course of several months, the victim was “beaten with a paint ball–they named it Lucille–that was scraped off the walls and formed into a ball and was placed in a sock, and he got beaten with that. And then he was held down on the top tier and was beaten…” The man also testified that the victim was sexually assaulted.
The judge ruled that Higgins deprived the man of protection from the harm of foreseeable injury and violence.
The judge’s memorandum opinion stated that once the son reported the abuse to his father, the father reported his son’s observations directly to Higgins in a face-to-face conversation in Higgins’ office. In response, Higgins instructed a lieutenant to speak to the son about behavior in that cell block.
But Higgins reportedly took no action to separate the victim from his abusers or to dissuade them from abusing him. Instead, the lieutenant and Derek Almarode, then chief of security at the jail and now acting superintendent at Rockbridge Regional Jail, used a routine transfer operation to place two of the man’s “worst abusers” on a transfer list, moving them out of the jail on Dec. 22, 2016, without Higgins’ knowledge or permission.
In February 2017, a second man who said he was abused, began yelling about the abuse and got the attention of guards. The man was interviewed by the Rockbridge County Sheriff’s Office, which launched an investigation.
Higgins resigned from his position as superintendent at the jail the following month after Virginia State Police began its investigation into the accusations.
Higgins was also found guilty of charges related to the preferential treatment of another offender incarcerated at Rockbridge Regional Jail. He received special treatment after his relatives donated to a scholarship fund Higgins and his sister-in-law created for Higgins’ late nephew.
The court document states that a review of scholarship fund records demonstrates that donations made by the man’s family and friends were the largest cash donations made to the fund in 2016.
The document also states that in May 2016, “Olivia Manning provided a hat signed by NFL quarterback Peyton Manning to Higgins as an auction item for the Scholarship Fund.” Olivia Manning, Peyton’s mother, provided the hat at the request of the offender’s family.
An attorney for Higgins did not respond to messages left by WFXR. Higgins has a sentencing scheduled for May 11.