Because of the hazards they face from inmates, it’s exceedingly rare for prison guards to be sentenced to time behind bars.
But on Thursday, Common Pleas Court Judge Anne Marie Coyle made an exception for Milton Gibbs, a former Philadelphia correctional officer who a jury found dragged, punched, and kicked inmate Brandon Kulb, knocking him unconscious, and then falsified a report on the June 2016 incident.
The judge sentenced Gibbs to a jail term between 45 days and 23 months, plus four years’ probation, and required he attend anger-management counseling and provide community service. The sentence was to be served on at least 15 consecutive weekends. At Gibbs’ request, the judge allowed him to serve his time in the Bucks County Correctional Facility.
“You have had many warning shots across the bow, all related to various instances when you either lost your temper or abused your authority,” Coyle told Gibbs, 54, of South Philadelphia, citing a history of allegations including a 1989 arrest for choking a juvenile in custody in Bucks County, a 2004 assault of an inmate at a Philadelphia men’s jail, and other disciplinary complaints including a 2012 allegation that he grabbed a female inmate at Philadelphia’s Riverside Correctional Facility by the hair and dragged her down the hall.
“One would have thought that would have caused you to stop and reflect a bit. That did not happen here.”
Another correctional officer, Terrance Bailey, entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to three years’ probation. A third officer, Shaun Lowe, was placed in a diversion program for a role in obstructing the investigation.
Coyle said Gibbs deserved a different sentence, because he had not accepted responsibility. “You still don’t see what you did as wrong,” she told him.
The incident took place close to midnight June 21, 2016, at the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center, a county jail. Officers turned out the lights on the cell block at 11 p.m., which was earlier than usual, and inmates began shouting and banging on their doors. That’s when the officers pulled Kulb out of his cell, handcuffed, and began punching and kicking him. The incident lasted less than 10 minutes, much of it captured on video.
Kulb says he lost consciousness after the officers, wearing heavy boots, kicked him in the head. Afterward, Kulb was seen on the video with his shirt torn and hanging from his waist. Then, Kulb said, Gibbs brought him a cheeseburger and fries and asked if “everything was OK.”
Assistant District Attorney Brian Collins told the judge he believed probation was unnecessary — but jail time was. The decision reflected “the seriousness of what happened, and shows that no one is above the law.”
The prosecution marks a shift that began under the administration of former District Attorney Seth Williams, after the City Paper published video of cases that showed that inmates charged with assaulting guards were, in fact, victims. Larry Levy, an officer convicted of beating an inmate in 2014, was sentenced to two years’ probation, while another officer seen on video assaulting an inmate was never charged.
“Historically, this is somewhat new,” said Angus Love, of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. “They stopped charging inmates, and now apparently they’re charging the guards. It’s a big step forward.”
In his report from the night of the incident, Gibbs described using only the force necessary to restrain Kulb when the inmate refused to comply with an order. In court, he stuck to that claim: “I just did my job that night. That’s all.”
A federal lawsuit filed by Kulb against the city, Gibbs, and other prison staff was settled out of court. In the complaint, he reported bruising and swelling in his face, neck, wrists, ribs, and back.
Gibbs declined to comment. A spokesperson for the Philadelphia Department of Prisons said she was unable to provide immediate comment.
Gibbs’ lawyer, Greg Pagano, said at sentencing that the injury was overblown. “He didn’t even need a Band-Aid, Judge,” he said.
In comparison, he said, the injury to Gibbs was severe: “This is a man who has already lost everything. … He already lost his job and his pension. He’s already a convicted felon. He’s already unemployable.”