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County settles suit
Apr 15, 2004 12:00 am
A lawsuit against Wilson County and five former jailers – all of them linked to an ongoing federal investigation into alleged brutality within the jail – has been settled out of court for $95,000, an attorney confirmed yesterday.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of former jail inmate Paul Armes, who told FBI agents involved in the ongoing U.S. Department of Justice investigation that he underwent "a series of beatings" while in custody, leading to criminal charges against one former officer.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit were the county as well as former corrections officers Shane Conatser, Travis Bradley, Patrick Marlowe, Chris McCathern and John McKinney. Both Bradley and McKinney have already pleaded guilty to charges arising from the probe, with Armes' cooperation apparently playing a key role in the charges against Bradley, court records indicate.
County Attorney Mike Jennings said the lawsuit – filed on behalf of Armes by Mt. Juliet attorney Adam W. Parrish – was settled in late March after being sent into mediation by a federal judge.
He said attorneys representing the county's insurance carrier recommended the settlement, placing the amount at $95,000.
The county attorney described the settlement as "a little different" than an earlier agreement in which the county paid $400,000 to end the lawsuit brought by the family of a prisoner who was allegedly beaten to death while in custody, setting off the ongoing investigation of the jail.
In this case, Jennings said, the plaintiff "had demonstrable injuries" that were apparently caused by jailers, though not intentionally.
"Basically I think it was settled because he did incur some medical expenses because of some things that happened when he was in custody and we felt responsible for his medical expenses," he said.
He said Armes was injured when he was "restrained" by jailers and that any injuries to the prisoner by guards was unintentional. The settlement agreement did not imply any guilt on behalf of the county or the individual jailers, Jennings said.
The lawsuit alleged Armes was severely beaten during a jail stay but did not seek specific monetary damages on his behalf. Attempts to contact his attorney yesterday were unsuccessful.
"Our position was that he did sustain some injuries when the officers had to restrain him, and because he was in custody we felt a degree of responsibility regarding his medical expenses," Jennings said. "That's my understanding of what led to the settlement agreement."
Bradley and McKinney have both pleaded guilty to falsifying jail incident reports and lying to investigators about other guards' altercations with inmates as a result of the federal investigation.
Marlowe has been mentioned along with Conatser and McCathern in FBI statements detailing the assaults Bradley and McKinney are accused of covering up, though none of the three have been charged.
Armes was the victim in the assault which netted the charge against Bradley, according to FBI statements entered into the court record at the time the former officer pleaded guilty.
At the time of Bradley's guilty plea, an FBI statement said he "witnessed a number of incidents involving the beating of inmates and detainees" and identified Armes as one of the brutality victims.
The FBI statement said Armes was "struck in the face" by Conatser and that Bradley "later witnessed" Marlowe "enter Armes' cell."
"Bradley then heard the sound of blows being struck" from inside the cell, the statement added, noting Marlowe "was off duty at the time he entered Armes cell."
The FBI statement said that during an interview with investigators Armes "described a series of beatings he was was subjected to while at the jail."
The statement went on to describe his "serious injuries," including "a fracture of an orbital bone which required surgery and the installation of a steel plate near his eye."
Armes was in custody because of a drunken driving arrest, the FBI statement said.
In addition to Bradley and McKinney – who pleaded guilty just last week – a third former corrections officer, William Westmoreland, has also pleaded guilty to assault charges arising from the investigation. All three former officers are slated to be sentenced later this year.
Marlowe – who reportedly left the jail shortly after the probe began, telling superior he was "tired of the hassle" it created – has been identified by numerous sources as a primary target of the investigation.
Also considered a target is Cpl. Gary Hale, who was suspended with pay when the investigation began over 14 months ago. His attorney, Frank Lannom of Lebanon, has acknowledged that he expects his client to be charged but has expressed confidence he will eventually be exonerated.
Both Marlowe and Hale were second-shift employees of the jail, the time frame getting the "primary focus" of investigators, according to FBI statements.
The investigation was precipitated by the January 2003 head injury death of prisoner Walter S. Kuntz, 43, which was ruled a homicide by the state medical examiner's office.
Kuntz lapsed into a coma from which he never recovered after spending about seven hours in custody following his arrest by Lebanon police on charges ranging from driving under the influence to resisting arrest.
Officials with both the sheriff's department and the LPD denied any wrongdoing in the case and asked for an independent inquiry into Kuntz's death, leading to the federal investigation.
The Kuntz family then filed an $80 million lawsuit against both agencies, leading to the out of court settlement in which the county paid $400,000. The City of Lebanon paid only $50,000 to settle the suit.