Ky. inmates allege officer abuse

By Beth Musgrave
The Lexington Herald-Leader

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Four Fayette County jail officers and one former officer have been indicted on charges they beat inmates and then conspired to cover it up by writing bogus reports and threatening others not to report the incidents.

Those named in the federal indictment released Thursday are Sgt. John McQueen, Cpl. Clarence McCoy, former Cpl. Scott Tyree, Sgt. Anthony Estep and Lt. Kristine Lafoe. The first count of the indictment alleges that "the five defendants conspired with each other and with other unindicted individuals to assault inmates without justification, and to cover up their conduct by filing false reports and charges."

The remaining charges are as follows: McQueen is charged with two counts of using excessive and unnecessary force on inmates, one count of falsifying reports and one count of attempting to obstruct justice in order to cover up the assaults; McCoy and Tyree are charged with one count of assaulting an inmate and one count of falsifying reports to conceal the assault; and Estep is charged with one count of obstruction of justice for filing false charges against an inmate who attempted to report the abuse of an inmate.

None of the officers could be reached for comment Thursday.

Mayor Jim Newberry released a statement Thursday night, saying the city has "implemented various measures to help ensure a safe and secure facility for both our employees and the inmates." Newberry also addressed the indictments at Thursday's Urban County Council meeting.

He said the city installed video cameras in 2007 in the intake area, one site of alleged criminal activity, and "have completely restructured staff in intake."

"We have been aware of the ongoing investigation at the jail and will continue to fully cooperate," Newberry said in the statement.

He said the employees will be suspended with pay, effective immediately, pending further investigation.

All but Tyree still work at the jail, city officials said. Tyree works at the Town Branch Wastewater Treatment Plant, but also will be suspended with pay, said Shaye Rabold, Newberry's chief of staff.

The indictments, filed in U.S. District Court in Covington, were not a surprise.

The jail has been under investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice for at least 20 months. Federal officers executed a search warrant at the jail in September 2006, before Newberry's election that November.

Shortly after the FBI confirmed that there was an investigation at the Fayette County Detention Center, John Vest, an officer at the jail, came forward and said he had been working with the FBI but declined to discuss specifics. Vest was running for public office at the time.

Several former inmates have sued the jail in state and federal court alleging brutality at the hand of officers.

The indictment says that the third shift officers engaged in a conspiracy to assault and then cover-up brutality at the jail.

Between January 2006 to October 2006, the five engaged in a conspiracy to "assault, injure, inflict pain upon and otherwise physically punish" detainees at the jail and then justify the use of force by writing false and misleading incident reports that would say that the detainee attacked a jail officer, provoking the use of force, the indictment alleges.

The indictment says that the five used a "code" language to describe the use of force that made the incidents sound justifiable. Third-shift supervisors in intake would review the incident reports and make sure that officers were using the appropriate "code" language.

The indictment lists incidents involving six different inmates. The inmates are only listed by their initials. But court documents and documents obtained by the Herald-Leader through a public records request show that one of the inmates -- S.H. -- Is Scott Howe, who sued the jail in July 2007.

According to Howe's lawsuit and the indictment, McQueen reportedly slammed Howe's head into a counter in the intake area on June 17, 2006, even though Howe was handcuffed and not resisting. According to the indictment, Estep and Tyree watched and failed to report it.

McQueen then instructed Estep not to write an incident report about his assault on Howe, the indictment alleges. The Herald-Leader asked for all incident reports regarding use of force in the intake area from October 2005 to December 2006; there was no report on Howe.

In another incident, McCoy and Tyree planned to assault another detainee -- B.M. -- to retaliate against B.M. for taking a sack lunch out of the intake area. Before the alleged assault on B.M., defendants McCoy and Tyree agreed that they would falsely claim that B.M. turned on McCoy. The two officers than assaulted B.M., the indictment alleges.

Lafoe, the indictment alleges, knew that officers were using unnecessary force and failed to intervene. The indictment also says that Lafoe "instructed officers known to the grand jury that if they were going to use unjustified physical force on detainees, they should do so outside the view of any fixed or hand-held video cameras."

The indictment also alleges that jail officers retaliated against an inmate who tried to report an assault using his cell phone. The officers allegedly filed a false report against the inmate.

It is unclear whether the investigation into wrongdoing at the jail is ongoing.

Copyright 2008 The Lexington Herald-Leader

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