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Friday, February 17, 2012

Teen Witnesses Say Chris Eaton, Others Beat Billy Randall Stinnett While Handcuffed, Arraignment Set For February 29 In Bowling Green U. S. District Court.

Teens: Eaton, deputies beat man in cuffs
Arrested Barren man's lawsuit prompted federal investigation

By JUSTIN STORY

When Billy Randall Stinnett was arrested Feb. 24, 2010, outside Calvary Baptist Church in Glasgow following a police pursuit, the commotion brought five teenagers inside the church to a window to see what was happening.

The teens would later tell the FBI they witnessed Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton and a group of deputies kick Stinnett and hit him with batons after he had been handcuffed.

A 17-year-old girl told investigators that she saw Stinnett "flip-flopping around as he was being struck" by deputies with their fists, feet and batons.

"She stopped watching at this point because she went to her crying sister who believed someone was being murdered," Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Judd wrote in a Oct. 8, 2010, letter to Commonwealth's Attorney Karen Davis notifying her of the investigation into the events surrounding Stinnett's arrest.

Eaton and four deputies, all under federal indictment for civil rights violations, are accused in a lawsuit that was filed Feb. 22, 2011, in U.S. District Court in Bowling Green of violating Stinnett's constitutional rights.

Eaton was indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury on two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law and one count each of witness tampering, falsification of a document and giving a false statement to federal investigators.

Sheriff's Deputies Aaron Adam Bennett, Danny "Bobby" McCown, Adam Gene Minor and Barren-Edmonson County Drug Task Force Detective Eric Duane Guffey, who is also employed by the sheriff's office, have been charged with deprivation of rights under color of law.

Bennett, McCown and Minor were also indicted on one count each of providing a false statement to federal investigators, while Guffey was also indicted on two counts of providing a false statement to federal investigators.

Online court records indicate that Eaton and the other law enforcement officials will be arraigned Feb. 29 in Bowling Green on the federal criminal charges.

Stinnett's lawsuit against the officials offers additional detail into the allegations that prompted the federal investigation, which resulted in indictments.

For the first 10 months of his civil case, Stinnett had no attorney and most of the documents coming from him were handwritten filings from prison.

Louisville attorneys Laura Landenwich and Ted Walton agreed to represent Stinnett in the civil case, and they made their first appearance Dec. 28.

"We felt that his civil rights have been severely violated and the conduct of the sheriff's office needed to be addressed," Walton said.

A status conference in the lawsuit was Thursday with U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Goebel, and Walton said he anticipated a scheduling order would be entered soon setting the next court date.

Stinnett, 30, was arrested after leading police on a chase through the county for "approximately 30 minutes to an hour," before crashing his van outside the church, according to court records.

He was charged with 47 criminal counts, including first-degree wanton endangerment, manufacturing methamphetamine, third-degree assault of a police officer and resisting arrest.

Stinnett, who has prior felony convictions in Warren, Allen and Barren counties, pleaded guilty to the charges last year and is serving a 20-year sentence at Green River Correctional Complex in Central City.

In a handwritten complaint filed from prison, Stinnett said he attempted to surrender to police, lying on his stomach and placing his hands behind his head.

Stinnett then claimed that Eaton struck him with a metal Asp baton "like it was a baseball bat," hitting Stinnett in the head, elbow, back and legs.

"After the handcuffs were put on, Chris Eaton and his friends continued to kick, stomp and spit on me while I was on the ground," Stinnett wrote in the complaint.

In another document, Stinnett wrote that he received 10 staples in his head for the injuries. Copies of booking photos that are part of the case file show staples along the left side of his head.

"I have had nightmare dreams and painful migraines where they hit my head," Stinnett wrote.

Eaton and the other officials are represented in the civil matter by attorney Aaron Smith of Bowling Green.

In court documents, the officials deny wrongdoing and assert that Stinnett was actively resisting arrest. Smith did not return a message seeking comment.

Judd's four-page letter to Davis relayed the information that federal investigators received from the teenagers in the church and from Eaton and other deputies at the scene.

The names of the teenage witnesses are blacked out in the case file.

The teenagers claimed that Stinnett was not carrying a weapon nor did he throw anything on the ground.

Three of the witnesses named Eaton as an officer at the scene.

Each witness said that the officers struck Stinnett several times after he was handcuffed, with one 19-year-old witness describing "soccer-style" kicks.

The 19-year-old told the FBI that officers attacked Stinnett, walked away for 30 to 45 seconds to talk on their radios and returned to hit Stinnett for two additional minutes, according to Judd's letter.

A 14-year-old witness said that she, her father and brother would later take pictures of the area where "blood pool and splatter" had gathered, the letter said.

A 13-year-old said that Stinnett went to the ground of his own accord and told investigators that the assault continued for about a minute after he was handcuffed, Judd wrote.

"She did not see anything that suggested Stinnett was a threat to officials," Judd wrote. "She advised that the assault continued after the handcuffs were on and that she walked away because she thought someone was being murdered."

Judd's letter also summarized the officers' accounts of what happened.

The letter stated that Eaton told the FBI in an interview that he believed Stinnett had a .22-caliber pistol in his right hand.

"Eaton stated that he shouted commands to Stinnett but he did not comply," Judd wrote. Eaton then reportedly struck Stinnett three times with the baton and that Stinnett kicked him in the leg at one point.

Judd wrote that Eaton had written in an incident report that Stinnett came at him in an aggressive manner. The sheriff reported that a deputy saw what had fallen out of Stinnett's hand during the struggle and found a folded gray knife and a vial of meth.

The other deputies denied hitting or mistreating Stinnett after he was in handcuffs.

Bennett said that Stinnett was lying on his stomach with his hands under his torso and struggling with officers, and that Bennett broke his hand during the struggle to handcuff Stinnett.

In his filings, Stinnett claimed that a deputy had broken his hand from hitting Stinnett.

Bennett said in a report he could hear Eaton screaming over the radio that Stinnett had a weapon, Judd's letter said.

The deputy said he witnessed Stinnett kick Eaton during the struggle.

"Bennett told the FBI that he did not believe Stinnett's kick to Eaton was intentional, but rather, occurred as Stinnett was flailing about," Judd wrote.

Walton said that it is unclear how the criminal case might affect the civil rights lawsuit, in which Stinnett originally sought $25 million in damages from the governments of Barren County or Glasgow and punitive damages of $5 million from each defendant.

A May 16 filing from Stinnett also shows him seeking to hold each deputy individually liable from $10 million apiece.

In June, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph McKinley ordered that the governments of Glasgow and Barren County be dismissed from the suit, saying they could not be held liable for the actions of the other defendants.

"We don't want to do anything that would hamper the Justice Department's pursuit of those charges," Walton said. "We appreciate what they're doing and we think it's important."

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