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LPD officers testify in jail probe
May 28, 2004 12:00 am
The two Lebanon police officers who arrested the man whose death led to a federal investigation of the Wilson County Jail have both made grand jury appearances and neither is under suspicion in the highly publicized case, attorneys say.
Officers Derrick Way and Andrew Parrish, the two LPD officers who arrested Walter S. Kuntz, 43, after a January 2003 drunken driving accident, are not considered targets of the investigation and both recently gave testimony before the grand jury spearheading the 16-month-old U.S. Department of Justice probe, attorneys for the two confirmed yesterday.
Way's attorney said his client appeared "strictly as a witness" while an attorney for Parrish animatedly replied "oh yes" when asked if he feels his client is free from suspicion.
Lebanon attorney Alan Poindexter, who represents Way, confirmed claims made by numerous sources that his client recently testified before the grand jury and is not a target of the investigation.
"That is my understanding as well. He has appeared before the grand jury but his capacity, it's our understanding, has been strictly as a witness," Poindexter said.
Poindexter declined to elaborate or discuss his client's grand jury testimony, citing the confidential nature of the investigation.
Murfreesboro attorney Charles Ward responded "that's correct" when told that sources also described Parrish as a witness rather than a target of the investigation who was recently called to testify before the panel.
Ward said he was uncertain if his client may be called on to give additional testimony, but replied with an emotional "oh yes" when asked if he feels Parrish has been cleared by investigators.
Way and Parrish arrested Kuntz on charges ranging from driving under the influence to resisting arrest. Kuntz then spent some seven hours in jail before being found in a coma from which he never recovered, prompting the federal investigation.
The two officers stated in arrest warrants that they were forced to struggle with Kuntz but maintained they did not use excessive force, a stance repeated countless times by LPD officials over the course of the investigation.
Lebanon Public Safety Commissioner Billy Weeks refused to discuss the investigation when contacted for comment yesterday.
"We've been instructed not to discuss the investigation in any manner whatsoever and we intend to follow those instructions," Weeks said.
Kuntz's death came as a result of injuries "consistent with a beating," according to the state medical examiner's office, which ruled the case a homicide.
No LPD officers have been mentioned in the few public comments made by federal authorities since the investigation began.
According to an FBI agent's written statements, the probe instead has revolved around the Wilson County Jail, specifically the facility's 4 p.m. to midnight "second shift."
The statements about the probe by FBI Agent Scott Swallows became public when two former jail guards pleaded guilty last November to charges arising from the investigation.
The two – Travis Bradley and William Westmoreland – are slated to be sentenced later this year. Bradley pleaded guilty to falsifying jail incident reports while Westmoreland pleaded guilty to assault.
They were later joined by a third former guard, John McKinney, who pleaded guilty to falsifying jail incident reports in April. Like his former co-workers, McKinney is scheduled to be sentenced later this year.
Several other guards are believed to be under suspicion as a result of the investigation, with two – suspended Cpl. Gary Hale and former second shift Sgt. Patrick Marlowe – repeatedly identified as primary targets of the probe.
Both were on duty the night Kuntz was jailed and Marlowe has seemingly been implicated in at least one other assault against an inmate in an unrelated case, according to the FBI statements.
Hale's attorney, Frank Lannom of Lebanon, has repeatedly said he expects his client to be charged but has just as frequently expressed confidence that he will eventually be exonerated. Attorneys for Marlowe have refused to discuss the investigation.
Though Hale was suspended with pay shortly after the investigation began, Marlowe resigned after reportedly telling superiors he was "tired of the hassle" created by the probe.
Numerous sheriff's department officials have appeared before the grand jury over the course of the investigation, among the most notable Sheriff Terry Ashe and former Capt. David Hemontoler, who headed the jail for the past several years before resigning to take a post with the county road department.
Investigators have also expressed an interest in others with access to the jail. Two local bail bondsmen have confirmed they testified before the grand jury, while the supervisor of the county's judicial commissioners recently revealed they were questioned by federal investigators, who also requested and received copies of time sheets indicating the hours they were on duty.