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Judge denies Guard service request
Jun 16, 2004 12:00 am
A federal judge has denied a request by a former Wilson County Jail guard to be activated with his National Guard unit.
William Westmoreland, who pleaded guilty last year to federal assault charges stemming from an ongoing Department of Justice investigation into civil rights violations at the jail, filed a motion in May asking that he be allowed to join the Gallatin-based 278th cavalry unit when it is activated.
The motion also specifically requested that he be permitted to carry a firearm while on active duty even though convicted felons are prohibited from possessing firearms.
Westmoreland's request caused questions to arise regarding when a person becomes a convicted felon when he has pleaded guilty, but not yet been sentenced in the case.
Military attorneys briefly probed the request while U.S. Attorney Bill Cohen filed a motion opposing the request.
Cohen cited the firearms prohibition and the fact that Westmoreland may not be able to travel back to Nashville for sentencing which is set for Sept. 27.
In denying the request, Judge Todd Campbell said that by pleading guilty to the offense charged Westmoreland is now a convicted felon and is consequently prohibited from possessing a firearm.
"The court is without authority to waive this prohibition," the order read.
Campbell's decision came despite the fact that Westmoreland's motion included five letters from fellow Guard members including two officers attesting to his skill and training as the driver of a Bradley armored fighting vehicle.
One of the letters from First Lt. Brian McSpadden called Westmoreland "the kind of man I want by my side with me in the event our unit is called into harms way."
Westmoreland is one of four jailers who have pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the ongoing probe of prisoner abuse at the jail. The probe stems from the January 2003 head injury death of inmate Walter S. Kuntz, 43, who lapsed into a coma while incarcerated and never regained consciousness. He faces a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
In addition to Westmoreland, former guards Travis Bradley and John McKinney have also pleaded guilty to charges contained in federal informations. Both men pleaded guilty to charges of falsifying jail incident reports. Former supervisor Christopher McCathern pleaded guilty last week to a one-count federal information alleging he assaulted a Wilson County Jail inmate more than two years ago. All four former guards are set to be sentenced later this year.
Night News Editor Sherry Phillips can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 44, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.