On Wednesday, a federal grand jury indicted the Sheriff of Barren County, Kentucky, along with four of his deputies, on multiple charges stemming from the 2010 beating of a man in their custody and the cover-up that followed. The charges against the men include civil rights violations for the attack itself as well as making false statements to FBI investigators, falsifying police reports, and witness tampering.
According to a civil lawsuit previously filed by the victim, the beating took place after Sheriff Christopher Eaton and his deputies apprehended Billy R. Stinnett following a chase. Stinnett crashed the van he was driving into a church and then exited the vehicle. According to Stinnett, he then placed his hands behind his head and tried to surrender, but Eaton began to beat him with a metal baton. Stinnett claimed that as he lay on the ground, Eaton and his deputies “continued to hit, kick, stomp and spit on me brutally for what seemed like three or four minutes.” This story has been corroborated by four teenagers who saw the arrest from the church. One thirteen-year-old witness said she had to look away because she thought the men were murdering him.
Aside from the civil rights charges related to the beating, the indictment accuses Sheriff Eaton of falsifying police reports and witness tampering for telling a deputy to create a false report. The reports provided by the Sheriff’s office to the FBI are contradicted by the statements of the four teenagers who witnessed the beating. Moreover, the stories of Eaton and the deputies appear to be inconsistent about whether Stinnett had a weapon, and if so, what kind. The men may face 10 years for each civil rights charge, 5 years for the false statements charges, and Eaton could face potentially more time in prison for his additional cover-up attempts.
Our federal criminal attorneys have represented sheriff deputies, police officers and former prosecutors in a variety of federal criminal cases. In fact, Page Pate won a federal civil rights criminal trial against a sheriff’s deputy several years ago when the allegations were very similar to the Kentucky case. These cases can be successfully defended, but it is essential to keep the media from painting an inaccurate picture of events or your clients before the case reaches trial.