Two former corrections officers at the Jackson County Detention Center have been convicted by a federal jury of physically assaulting an inmate in violation of his constitutional protection against unreasonable force.
“These corrections officers abused their authority by physically assaulting an inmate,” said U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison. “Our Constitution protects every citizen from the use of unreasonable force. No one is above the law, and no one should be denied their civil rights.”
“These corrections officers were convicted by a jury of their peers for severely beating and wounding a disoriented and compliant inmate,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “This conduct betrays their oath as law enforcement officers and violates the Constitution. The Department of Justice will prosecute those who violate the rights of others.”
Travis Hewitt, 29, and Terrance Dooley, Jr., 38, both of Kansas City, Missouri, were found guilty on Friday, Oct. 4, of participating in a conspiracy to deprive the victim of his civil rights and one count of deprivation of rights.
Co-defendants Jen-I Pulos, 38, and Dakota Pearce, 26, both of Kansas City, Missouri, each recently pleaded guilty. Pearce pleaded guilty to his role in the conspiracy and Pulos pleaded guilty to the deprivation of rights.
Hewitt, Dooley, Pulos, and Pearce were formerly employed as corrections officers at the detention center. Hewitt and Pearce served as acting sergeants. Dooley and Pulos served on the Disturbance Control Team, also known as the Correctional Emergency Response Team, which is responsible for intervening in inmate altercations and neutralizing threats posed by inmates.
The victim, identified in court documents as “J.R.,” was an inmate at the detention center. On July 4, 2015, J.R. was detained on a probation violation related to the monitoring of his release conditions for a felony driving while intoxicated conviction. J.R. was placed in the medical housing unit of the detention center because he was severely confused and disoriented, as he was experiencing severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
At about 7 p.m. another corrections officer allowed J.R. to walk in a secure area outside of his cell. J.R., clearly disoriented and unaware of his whereabouts, attempted to exit the secure area. The corrections officer and J.R. then had a brief physical struggle; the corrections officer called a Code 1, indicating to other officers that she needed assistance.
Hewitt and Pearce responded and placed J.R. in a holding cell. Hewitt, Dooley, Pulos, and Pearce were upset that a supervisor decided J.R. would not be placed in a “restraint chair,” which was commonly used to punish unruly inmates, because J.R. was clearly disoriented and unaware of his surroundings. Several hours later, Dooley and Pulos entered J.R.’s cell, purportedly to remove a comb that had been fashioned into a “shank.” They removed J.R. and transported him to a holding cell (which was out of the range of surveillance cameras). In this holding cell, Hewitt, Dooley, Pulos, and Pearce physically assaulted J.R., while he was handcuffed and not posing a threat to anyone, in order to punish him for the earlier incident. At times during the incident, one of the officers stood outside of the cell and served as a lookout in an attempt to ensure that the assault was concealed from other witnesses.
Several hours after the second incident, medical professionals at the detention center decided to transfer J.R. to Truman Medical Center out of a belief that his alcohol withdrawal symptoms had worsened. Truman Medical personnel working in the emergency room, however, quickly determined that J.R. had sustained significant injuries unrelated to alcohol withdrawal. Medical personnel ultimately diagnosed J.R. with broken ribs, a punctured lung, facial bruising, and injuries to his wrists.
Following the presentation of evidence, the jury in the U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Mo., deliberated for approximately four hours before returning the guilty verdicts to U.S. District Judge Gary A. Fenner, ending a trial that began Monday, Sept. 30.
Under federal statutes, Hewitt and Dooley are each subject to a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison without parole. Pulos and Pearce are each subject to a sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison without parole. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.