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Sheriff, jailers added to inmate lawsuit
Feb 27, 2006 12:00 am
February 20, 2006
Saying the recent criminal trial of Wilson County Jail guards "painted a very ugly picture of procedures at the jail," a U.S. District Court Judge on Thursday allowed 10 defendants, including Sheriff Terry Ashe, to face civil charges of conspiring to assault and harm at least one former prisoner.
In ruling on behalf of plaintiff Sergio Martinez, who sustained a broken jaw while in the custody of the Wilson County Jail, Magistrate Judge Joe B. Brown said "substantial evidence" now exists to suggest a number of jail officials worked together to hide their actions.
"It appears at this juncture, from the evidence adduced in the recent criminal case, that there is in fact substantial evidence that the defendants engaged in a deliberate effort to conceal their activities at the jail," wrote Brown, who sits on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.
As a result, Martinez can now sue Wilson County, former guards John McKinney, Travis Bradley, Shane Conaster, Patrick Marlowe, William Westmoreland, John Claiborne, Gary Hale, Eddie Fitzpatrick and Ashe for damages resulting from his alleged injuries at the hands of jailers.
Martinez's original suit, filed in 2002, only named former guards McKinney and Robert Dowell, as well as two other guards identified at the time as "John Doe."
While Brown denied Martinez's request to add all of the above-named defendants "to the actual beating itself," he did rule that before the criminal trial Martinez could not have "discovered the full nature of the conspiracy he now alleges among various of the defendants to file false reports and to cover up their knowledge of the incident."
Three former jailers – ex-Sgt. Patrick Marlowe, Conaster and Locke – have already stood trial in criminal court for their roles in the jail beatings.
Marlowe and Conaster were convicted on charges of criminal conspiracy while Locke was acquitted. Conaster faces up to 10 years in prison. Marlowe could face a life sentence.
In addition to allowing Martinez to sue eight additional defendants, Brown suggested each defendant would have to hire his own attorney.
"The Magistrate Judge has some concern that, under the present circumstances of the case, given the developments in the criminal cases, counsel can represent both Wilson County and individual defendants other than Sheriff Ashe," Brown wrote in a separate order handed down Jan. 30.
According to Martinez's attorney, Jerry Gonzalez, "that is going to increase by eight-fold the cost to the County of defending this case."
Gonzalez also said Brown's most recent ruling means his client will have a much better chance of reclaiming punitive damages.
"By bringing in additional individuals, it allows us to argue to the jury that each one of those individuals should be liable for punitive damages," the plaintiff's attorney said.
Wilson County has already paid $400,000 to settle a civil suit filed by the family of former prisoner Walter S. Kuntz, who died during his overnight stay in the Wilson County Jail. The 43-year-old man's head injury death and a subsequent federal investigation into what a state medical examined deemed a "homicide" became the centerpiece of the prosecution's case in the criminal trial.
Staff Writer Jared Allen can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 15 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.