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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Barren County Sheriff, Chris Eaton And Deputies Settle Federal Lawsuit Filed Against Them By Arrestee.


Deal reached in Eaton case
Civil rights lawsuit involving former Barren County sheriff and others settled, dismissed

A settlement reached Tuesday in federal court ended a legal battle between former Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton and a man who claimed Eaton and three deputies violated his civil rights while arresting him.

Terms of the settlement are not disclosed in court documents.

But the agreement between the two sides dismisses the lawsuit that Mark Smith brought in U.S. District Court against Eaton and deputies Aaron Bennett, Rodney Sponhouse and Chris Wyatt.
Bowling Green attorney Aaron Smith, who represented the officers, said an agreement was reached with Mark Smith, but nothing has been finalized.

He declined to comment further.

Mark Smith sued the officers in 2012, accusing them of using excessive force and engaging in malicious prosecution when he was arrested the previous year for public intoxication and disorderly conduct – charges that were later dismissed.

Eaton, who was not involved in the arrest, was sued for failing to properly train his officers about lawful search and seizure of property and the use of excessive force.

The arrest occurred Aug. 19, 2011, on Tompkinsville Road in Barren County. Mark Smith’s vehicle ran out of gas there, and he had contacted a friend to pick him up to get fuel, according to his lawsuit.
Mark Smith returned with fuel, but it was not enough to start the car, so he asked for permission from the property owner where the vehicle sat to leave it there overnight.

After those arrangements were made, Mark Smith returned to his vehicle and found Wyatt there.
Wyatt suspected Mark Smith of being intoxicated and asked him to submit to a field sobriety test. Mark Smith refused, citing an ankle injury.

Wyatt called Sponhouse and Bennett for backup, and Mark Smith submitted to a breath test.
Mark Smith claimed to have asked to see the results of the test, and that Wyatt refused to share them, leading Mark Smith to opine that he must have passed. Mark Smith then accused Wyatt of grabbing his arm and slamming him into the side of the police cruiser, handcuffing him and searching him.

Police found herbal incense in Mark Smith’s pocket, according to court records.
Sponhouse deployed pepper spray in Mark Smith’s face and locked him in the back of a police cruiser with the windows rolled up for about 30 minutes, the lawsuit claimed.

In a filing by Aaron Smith supporting a motion to dismiss the case, the lawyer said Sponhouse deployed a one-second blast of pepper spray because Mark Smith was banging his head against the window of the police cruiser and refused to stop, posing a danger to himself.

Bennett was at the scene but was not involved in the arrest and was not aware pepper spray had been used against Mark Smith until after he was transported from the scene.
Sponhouse aired out the cruiser where pepper spray had been used before transporting Mark Smith to jail, according to court records.

Mark Smith spent 15 days in jail and lost his job, according to his lawsuit, but Aaron Smith’s motion notes the charges were dismissed at Eaton’s request after Mark Smith’s attorney requested leniency based on his client’s past history of drinking problems and his agreement to enter rehabilitation.

Eaton’s 2013 federal trial for crimes charged against him, Bennett and two other deputies in relation to the 2010 arrest of another suspect played a factor in this case.
Eaton was found guilty in that case of two counts of witness tampering and acquitted of charges that he wrongfully assaulted Billy Stinnett after placing him in handcuffs and is appealing his conviction in that case. Bennett was found not guilty on all charges.

Mark Smith’s attorneys, Laura Landenwich and Ted Walton of Louisville, incorporated testimony from the criminal trial into court filings to support Mark Smith’s case against the sheriff and the officers.
Aaron Smith’s motion to dismiss argued the testimony and evidence from the criminal trial was not relevant to this unrelated case and did not demonstrate a pattern of excessive force used by officers under Eaton’s leadership.

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