KENNEWICK — A former Benton County jail corrections officer who admitted to smuggling drugs and cellphones into the jail for inmates is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday, July 13, in federal court.
Eric Christian pleaded guilty to conspiracy to provide prohibited objects to an inmate between December 2019 and April 2020. He had worked at the jail since August 2016.
He is accused of providing inmates in the jail in Kennewick with heroin, methamphetamine, marijuana and Suboxone, a prescription drug that can be used for pain but that also is a treatment for opioid addiction.
He also is suspected of allowing or encouraging fights between inmates, including by sharing confidential information with inmates and purposely leaving cell doors open.
Drugs and cellphones Christian gave to inmates were provided to him by two women in the community, one the girlfriend of Alejandro Leon, an inmate who was in the Benton County jail on federal drug charges.
Leon was sentenced in June 2021 to 13 years and 4 months in prison for being a felon in possession of a gun, conspiracy to provide prohibited objects to an inmate and possessing a prohibited object as an inmate. His drug charges were dismissed as part of plea agreements in the jail contraband and firearms cases.
Two inmates acted as confidential informants in the jail contraband case, including one who requested and received an expedited medical appointment with the jail nurse for a minor medical issue in exchange for information.
The other provided information after he was sentenced and received no consideration or compensation.
Christian is facing up to five years in a federal prison.
Smuggling drugs, cellphones
One of the confidential informants said that one morning before breakfast Christian had gone into a mop closet with a bag of rags containing cellphones and drugs.
He told inmate Lance Horntvedt the cellphones were in the closet and Horntvedt retrieved them, according to court documents.
Horntvedt was a Tri-Cities gang leader who was sentenced in May to 25 years in prison for forcing women through threats and violence to provide sex for money. He is also a defendant in the inmate contraband case.
He is accused of receiving contraband, keeping some for himself and distributing the rest to Leon and two other inmates, Joel Cervantes and Giovanni Kinsey.
In another incident, a jail officer saw Leon carry a manila envelope into the jail’s law library and unplug a computer there, according to a court document.
The officer later found a phone charger plugged into the outlet that had been used for the computer and a cellphone was found in the manila envelope.
When inmates were scheduled to be moved, Christian alerted them that they should get rid of anything they were not supposed to have, one confidential informant said.
Jail inmate assaults
One of the confidential informants said Christian also let inmates know which inmates were ordered to be kept separate for their own safety.
One confidential informant told officials that Christian would open the doors to sex offenders’ cells and tell other inmates to, “Do what you got to do.”
The other confidential informant said Christian purposely left an inmate’s cell door open to allow an assault by fellow gang members over a perceived wrongdoing as a gang member. The attackers’ cell doors also were left open.
Christian deflected knowledge of the assault by grabbing the law library cart and leaving the area, according to the confidential informant. The inmate later was seen to have injuries to his face, including a black eye.
When a different inmate said that Christian had allowed the assault, Christian let other inmates to go through his belongings and take what they wanted.
The confidential informant said Christian was laughing and said, “He ain’t got nothing left up in there.”
Cervantes and Kinsey have both been sentenced in the jail contraband case, along with Leon.
Cervantes was sentenced in November 2021 to two years and 9 months in prison for conspiracy to provide prohibited objects to an inmate. Kinsey was sentenced to time served in June on the same charge.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Marshals Service.