By AMANDA LOVIZA VICKERY
Glasgow Daily Times
BOWLING GREEN — The progress of a federal deprivation of rights trial against Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton, deputy Aaron Bennett and Barren-Edmonson Drug Task Force detective Eric Guffey hit a snag Monday morning as the judge and attorneys tried to figure out how to deal with testimony from FBI agents.
Before court went into session Monday morning, U.S. Department of Justice civil rights prosecutor Sanjay Patel talked to Judge Joseph H. McKinley Jr., and the defense team about how to allow three FBI agents to testify about their interviews of the defendants following the Feb. 24, 2010, arrest of Billy Randall Stinnett, without specifically testifying to what one defendant said about another defendant. Both sides agreed that FBI agents could discuss what each defendant said about "another officer," without naming other defendants.
However, FBI agent David McClelland was not on the stand long before the judge halted his testimony. McClelland participated in interviews of all three defendants on April 20, 2010, with lead investigator FBI agent Mike Brown. He and Brown had been assigned to investigate allegations that the three defendants and another deputy had participated in or observed the others beating Stinnett after he was in handcuffs.
When asking McClelland what Eaton told the agents in his interview and what Eaton had previously written in a Barren County Sheriff's Office report, Patel put Eaton's report on a projector for the witness, jury and courtroom to see. McKinley requested both teams of lawyers to approach his bench for a conference, and after about 15 minutes of discussion at the front of the courtroom, McKinley declared the court in recess to determine how to handle the situation.
Court returned to session about an hour later, and the next time Patel put Eaton's report on the projector, names were blacked out.
McClelland and Brown began each interview by reminding the officers that if they lied, they could be charged with a crime, and then asked each officer to review the reports they wrote following Stinnett's arrest. Each defendant attested to the accuracy of their reports.
Eaton told the agents on April 20, 2010, that when he came upon Stinnett on Feb. 24, 2010, during a foot pursuit, Eaton was the first officer on scene and Stinnett had what looked like a pistol in a clenched hand. Eaton told the FBI that as Stinnett confronted him, he pulled out his asp baton. Patel asked McClelland what he would expect an officer to pull out if confronted with an armed suspect.
"I would expect an officer to pull out a gun if a suspect had a weapon like that," McClelland said.
Similar to his BCSO report, Eaton told the agents he hit Stinnett three, or no more than four, times with his baton, and Stinnett remained standing. His second strike was aimed at the collar bone, and while he did not notice that he hit Stinnett's head, McClelland said Eaton told the agents he may have inadvertently hit Stinnett on his head with the baton. Stinnett then kicked Eaton, and Eaton backed away from the confrontation as another officer, followed shortly by two more, joined the scene.
Eaton said the other officers were able to wrestle Stinnett to the ground, and Eaton supplied his handcuffs for Stinnett's apprehension. Stinnett became compliant after he was cuffed, and the altercation ended, Eaton said. No one hit Stinnett after he was handcuffed, Eaton said both in the FBI interview and his report.
Eaton said he did notice blood on the ground after Stinnett's arrest, and he told the FBI that Stinnett’s head was near an air conditioner unit during the struggle.
Bennett told the FBI that when he arrived on the scene, Stinnett was already on the ground and one officer holding a baton was with him. Bennett reported that he saw the suspect, while flailing on the ground, kick the officer holding the baton. Bennett and two other officers then joined the confrontation. Bennett straddled Stinnett while he and two other officers tried to pull Stinnett’s hands out from under his stomach. In Bennett’s BCSO report, he wrote that he broke his hand during the struggle with Stinnett.
During the FBI interview, McClelland said, Bennett was less sure. He thought he broke it in the struggle, but it may have been when he jumped the fence. He did not notice the pain until after Stinnett was apprehended.
“He just wasn’t sure how he broke it when we asked him clarifying questions,” McClelland testified Monday.
Bennett denied hitting Stinnett or seeing another officer hit Stinnett, but said he had “tunnel vision” during the altercation. No one hit Stinnett after he was handcuffed, Bennett told the FBI. He did notice blood on the air conditioning unit after the struggle. The struggle lasted about a minute, Bennett told the FBI according to McClelland’s testimony.
If the struggle itself was a minute, Patel asked McClelland if it sounded like only a minute and 13 seconds could have passed from the beginning of the foot pursuit until officers walked Stinnett away from the scene, and McClelland said no.
During his April 20, 2010, interview, Guffey told the FBI that he saw Stinnett crash his van and run away from the area. Guffey got out of his truck, which he had parked as a road block, and ran after Stinnett and the other officer pursuing Stinnett. When Guffey caught up, he said Stinnett was already on the ground and there was only one other officer with him. Guffey and two officers who arrived at almost the same time, struggled with Stinnett until Guffey could get handcuffs on the suspect, which were handed to him by another officer.
When asked if he saw anyone hit Stinnett, McClelland testified Guffey told him he had “tunnel vision” during the struggle, the same phrase Bennett used.
In Guffey’s BCSO report, he wrote that Stinnett still struggled with officers once he was in handcuffs.
In his interview, Guffey told the FBI that Stinnett became compliant and Guffey felt like he could leave the scene. He went to process Stinnett’s van. After processing the van, McClelland said Guffey told the FBI he went back to the scene of the struggle, found a vial of methamphetamine on the ground and noticed some blood on the air conditioning unit.
None of the defendants offered explanations to the FBI when the agents told them some witnesses offered different accounts of the encounter with Stinnett, McClelland said.