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More officials appear before grand jury
Mar 24, 2004 12:00 am
The count of high-ranking Wilson County officials who have testified before a federal grand jury probing alleged jailhouse beatings – one of them fatal – continues to climb.
Several sources familiar with the U.S. Department of Justice probe along with local attorneys involved in the case confirmed this week that at least three more county officials have testified before the grand jury.
In addition, federal investigators appear to be continuing to focus their attention primarily on the jail's second shift, which falls within the time frame when inmate Walter S. Kuntz, 43, allegedly sustained injuries resulting in his January 2003 death. His death was ruled a homicide by the state medical examiner's office.
Separate sources – as well as County Attorney Mike Jennings – confirmed that Wilson County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Larry Bowman, Lt. Eddie Fitzpatrick and judicial commissioner David Hale have all appeared before the grand jury since the probe began some 14 months ago.
None of the county officials mentioned were perceived to be targets of the probe, according to numerous sources.
Hale is the father of Cpl. Gary Hale, who was suspended with pay when the probe began and whose attorney, Frank Lannom of Lebanon, has acknowledged he is a target of investigators. Lannom has said, however, that he expects his client to eventually be exonerated.
Gary Hale was on duty the night Kuntz lapsed into a coma from which he never recovered and his father – a former Wilson Emergency Management Agency director – briefly examined an unresponsive Kuntz inside his cell before an ambulance was summoned, according to jail incident reports obtained by The Lebanon Democrat.
Jennings said yesterday that he accompanied Hale to the grand jury as a friend and sat with Fitzpatrick and Bowman.
"I was down there when they went before the grand jury," Jennings said Friday. "My role was to be out in the hall as they were waiting their turn. They don't let attorneys in there."
Other revelations about the probe surfaced this week when it was learned investigators have asked questions about how a former second shift guard sustained a broken hand while on duty, according to separate sources who spoke only on the condition of anonymity. Investigators have also expressed interest in incident reports written by the same guard detailing his and other officers' encounters with inmates, the same sources said.
The revelations came just days after local officials confirmed that former jail supervisor David Hemontolor testified before the panel and one week after it was learned that an officer who formerly worked as a jailer resigned as a result of the probe.
Federal authorities have declined comment on the status of that former jailer, John McKinney, who was working as a patrolman at the time of his abrupt resignation. In his letter of resignation, the officer alluded to the probe and his own failure to report alleged incidents of inmate abuse. Wilson County Sheriff Terry Ashe characterized McKinney's resignation as a "direct result" of the investigation and referred to incident reports filled out by the officer.
Such reports have already played a key role in the probe so far with Travis Bradley, one of two former jailers already facing charges, accused of filing false incident reports about altercations with inmates and later lying to federal investigators about the documents.
The other former jailer already facing charges, William Westmoreland, is charged with assaulting an inmate. Both he and Bradley were charged in federal informations rather than indictments, meaning the charges were filed by prosecutors rather than the grand jury.
Statements from FBI agents outlining the allegations against Westmoreland and Bradley prominently mention another former guard widely considered one of the primary targets of the investigation – former Sgt. Patrick Marlowe, who resigned shortly after the probe began, reportedly telling supervisors he was "tired of the hassle" it created.
Marlowe was a supervisor on the jail's second shift, which FBI agents have publicly said is where the investigation is "primarily focusing." The charges against Westmoreland and Bradley allege Marlowe participated in beating two different prisoners, one of whom "required surgery and the installation of a steel plate near his eye," according to FBI statements.
Marlowe was also on duty the night Kuntz sustained his alleged fatal beating and was involved in an altercation with the prisoner, according to jail incident reports. Numerous sources have repeatedly labeled Marlowe as an investigation target.
The new details of the probe have apparently heightened tensions in the department, with Ashe earlier in the week issuing a public statement claiming he was being "misrepresented" by local media coverage of the investigation.
Kuntz was brought to the jail by Lebanon police, who arrested him on charges ranging from driving under the influence to resisting arrest. Officials with the sheriff's department and LPD then asked District Attorney General Tommy Thompson for an independent inquiry into the death, leading to the federal investigation.
No LPD officers are considered targets of the investigation, numerous sources have said.
Ashe – in confirming that McKinney's resignation was related to the investigation – also said recently the federal probe should be a "lesson" to local residents that inmates enjoy a higher degree of Constitutional protection than the average citizen.
"The best lesson the community is learning from this investigation that I asked for is that when you're dealing with inmates, you're dealing with a higher degree of Constitutional rights. They have more protection under the Constitution than the rest of us," Ashe said.