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Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Trial Of Barren County Sheriff And Deputies Continues In Bowling Green Courtroom.

Ex-deputy: Laughs followed beating

Minor testifies he took part in incident involving handcuffed man, wrote false report

A former Barren County sheriff’s deputy testified Tuesday to taking part in a beating of a handcuffed suspect and laughing about it afterward with Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton before writing an untrue report of the incident at Eaton’s direction.
Adam Minor began testifying Tuesday afternoon at U.S. District Court in the trial of Eaton, Deputy Aaron Bennett and Detective Eric Guffey, who is assigned to the Barren-Edmonson County Drug Task Force.

Eaton faces three counts of deprivation of rights under color of law, two counts of witness tampering and one count each of falsification of documents, giving a false statement to federal investigators and destruction of a record, document or tangible object.
Guffey is charged with two counts each of deprivation of rights under color of law and providing a false statement to federal investigators, while Bennett faces one count each of the same charges.

The charges stem from a Feb. 24, 2010, incident in which law enforcement pursued Billy Stinnett across much of the county during an hour-long vehicle chase that resulted in Stinnett crashing his van near Calvary Baptist Church in Glasgow and fleeing on foot briefly until his arrest on numerous charges.

Federal prosecutors claim that police used excessive force while arresting Stinnett, kicking him and beating him with batons after he was handcuffed. Attorneys for Eaton, Bennett and Guffey deny wrongdoing and maintain that Stinnett resisted arrest and behaved combatively.
Minor, who left a career in law enforcement for a job selling used cars, pleaded guilty to providing a false statement to federal investigators and is cooperating with federal prosecutors pending his sentencing. He resumes testifying today.

Sanjay Patel, trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, asked Minor numerous questions about his involvement in the pursuit and arrest of Stinnett, but only after asking Minor whether Eaton made known what treatment fleeing suspects would receive from police after their arrest.
“Once they were caught, they’d take a beating,” Minor said.

Minor was driving a marked patrol car when he heard a dispatcher report a reckless driver possibly with children in the vehicle, eventually locating a green van driven by Stinnett and pursuing it as it swerved at other vehicles until he lost track of it.
When Eaton reported over police radio that the van crashed outside the church, about 10 or 20 seconds passed before Minor was at the church himself, he said.

Minor recalled running from his cruiser through a yard and jumping a fence with Bennett next to the church and encountering Guffey, Eaton and Stinnett at the end of a grassy alley leading up to the church breezeway.
Stinnett was seated next to an air-conditioning unit, his hands were behind his back and Guffey appeared to be handcuffing him as Eaton was walking away from the scene, Minor said.

Within moments, Minor kicked Stinnett twice in his left thigh, testifying that he was mad at Stinnett because of the pursuit and the dangerous situation for the officers.
Bennett then came to where Guffey had been standing and punched Stinnett five to 10 times in the head “pretty hard” to the point that he hurt himself, Minor testified.
“(Bennett) fanned his hand, saying he broke it,” Minor said.

The assault continued with Bennett and Eaton hitting Stinnett with police batons, both men raising them over their shoulders and bringing them down forcefully on Stinnett’s legs and body, according to Minor, who demonstrated for jurors.
One of the blows from the baton wielded by Bennett glanced off Stinnett and accidentally struck the sheriff.
“Bennett hit the bottom of Stinnett’s shoe and (the baton) bounced and hit Chris Eaton in the shin ... he limped away,” Minor said.

Minor admitted striking Stinnett’s hands with a flashlight before leading him to his patrol car and taking him to T.J. Samson Community Hospital. Stinnett admitted having two knives, a vial of methamphetamine and needles on him, Minor said, and a closed pocket knife was found clipped in his front pants pocket.
Consulting the recorded times of radio reports, Minor estimated that three minutes passed from Eaton reporting Stinnett’s traveling on Cherry Street to Stinnett being placed in custody. Minor also testified to not preparing a use of force report even though the situation merited preparing one.
Joking in the aftermath

For about two weeks afterward, the incident and arrest were the talk of the sheriff’s office, with Minor saying that Eaton would joke about hitting Stinnett with the baton after the suspect had his hands up and said “I’m done.”
Minor and other deputies listened to the radio recordings of Eaton screaming and laughed about it.
“(Eaton) said you’ve gotta make it sound good for the radio,” Minor said.
Minor recalled the sheriff approaching Stinnett as he was being led to Minor’s cruiser and punching him in the groin.

Trevor Phillips, then a public information officer for the sheriff’s department, took pictures at the scene of the incident, including one that Minor said showed Eaton striking Stinnett in the groin.
“The actual picture shows (Eaton’s) fist in the groin area and Stinnett kind of doubled over,” Minor said, testifying that the sheriff joked about it with several deputies afterward and referred to the picture as “the nut shot.”

About two weeks after the incident, Minor was informed of the FBI investigation into the incident and asked to write a report. Minor said Eaton asked him to prepare a statement for the FBI that claimed Stinnett produced a knife, kicked his feet, swung his arms and ignored verbal commands.
When Minor let the sheriff read the report, Eaton told him to change some of the wording, Minor said.

Lawyers outline arguments

Patel said in his opening argument that the picture Phillips took, appearing to capture Eaton striking Stinnett in the groin, had also been deleted after the sheriff directed Phillips to do so, a step that Patel said comprised part of an elaborate cover-up.
Patel also said pictures of bloodstain patterns outside the church would indicate a beating had taken place.
“What these defendants did not have a right to do was beat (Stinnett) after he surrendered,” Patel said.

Guthrie True, a Frankfort attorney representing Eaton, said Stinnett’s testimony in a deposition taken as part of a civil lawsuit he filed against the county would indicate that he charged at Eaton when he was being chased on foot and that he also kicked the sheriff.
True argued that law enforcement were aware of Stinnett’s criminal history and had reason to believe he was armed with a knife when they engaged in the pursuit.
Eaton was at home when he was informed of the pursuit, and True said he grabbed his service belt and joined in the chase.
“He’s a lot more Andy Griffith than the Rambo you’ve heard about here,” True said.

Guffey’s attorney, Brian Butler of Louisville, maintained that Guffey did not hit or kick Stinnett and did not stand by and watch other law enforcement members beat the handcuffed suspect.
As a drug task force detective, Guffey did not carry a baton, Butler said, and used his truck to block Cherry Street and eventually handcuffed Stinnett.

Butler also questioned the charge that Guffey lied to investigators, saying that it was based on a statement he made in a follow-up interview with the FBI that was supposed to have a contradicted an earlier statement that was not recorded.
“In my opinion, (Guffey) stopped Billy Stinnett before he could have killed somebody,” Butler said. “This prosecution of Eric Guffey is shameful.”
Attorney Robert “Buddy” Alexander of Glasgow, representing Bennett, said Bennett acted reasonably in subduing Stinnett.

Alexander argued that Bennett dug for Stinnett’s hands as he lied on his stomach so that he could handcuff the suspect and that Bennett does not know how he broke his hand in the incident.
Youths witness incident
Three witnesses who were part of a church youth praise band at Calvary Baptist Church three years ago testified about what they recalled seeing when police caught Stinnett, though their accounts had differences in the number of officers participating in the arrest and the number of blows landed.
None of the witnesses were able to identify specific officers involved.
Makayla Dugard, now 20, said she heard the sirens growing louder from inside the church and ran across the hallway into another room to peer with other youths through the window blinds at the scene happening below.

Dugard said she saw four or five uniformed men around Stinnett.
“When they backed away from him, he was in handcuffs,” Dugard said.
After Stinnett was handcuffed, the men kicked him in his legs and in the side of his body and two or three of them beat him with batons, Dugard said, adding that one man stomped near Stinnett’s head as he attempted to shield himself from the blows.
Dugard’s younger sister, also watching, became upset and left the room.
During cross-examination from True, Dugard said she had a phone at the time but did not take pictures or record the incident.
 When Butler questioned Dugard, she said she could not recall seeing whether Stinnett’s hands were underneath him when he was lying on the ground.

Two other young witnesses said they recounted watching out a window as uniformed officers hit a handcuffed Stinnett, although their accounts varied. One person, who was 12 at the time, said she saw three or four people strike Stinnett five or six times, while the other witness, who was 13 at the time of the incident, recalled watching the incident for 40 or 50 seconds and seeing three men standing around Stinnett’s feet, hitting and kicking him with about 20 or 30 “pretty hard” kicks.
The father of one of the witnesses returned with her to the scene outside the church about a week later to take pictures of what were identified as bloodstains on the air conditioning unit, the ground and a wall outside the church where the incident was said to have taken place.



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