By AMANDA LOVIZA VICKERY
Glasgow Daily Times
BOWLING GREEN — The defense team in a federal deprivation of rights trial against Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton, deputy Aaron Bennett and Barren-Edmonson Drug Task Force detective Eric Guffey called one more expert witness and two additional witnesses for Guffey, before resting its case Wednesday morning.
Alex Payne, a retired Kentucky State Police trooper and instructor in the use of force, particularly the asp baton, was the first to be called to the stand Wednesday morning in U.S. District Court in Bowling Green. In years as a trooper, member of a KSP special tactical team and instructor at the KSP academy, Payne testified that he has extensive experience in the use of an asp baton and training others how to use one properly. A baton is called for in a situation that requires more than open hand force, but less than deadly force, Payne said. He wouldn’t want a law enforcement officer to pull a firearm on a suspect who simply wanted to fight, he added.
Payne first went over the types of baton strikes in which officers are trained to, and then he used a baton and J. Guthrie True, defense attorney for Eaton, to demonstrate for the jury how an officer would approach using a baton against a suspect.
Strike zones for the asp are the center mass of the arm, center mass of the leg and center mass of the body, Payne said. Hitting those areas will cause pain, disarm the natural weapons of a suspect’s limbs and not cause long-term damage. A law enforcement officer would not aim for a suspect’s head, Payne said, because the head moves easily and cannot hurt the officer, and hitting the head risks serious harm to the suspect. However, Payne said, it is understood that officers will frequently miss their target in a fight with a suspect.
“Even though this is my aiming zone, I’m not always going to hit it,” Payne said.
In any confrontation with a suspect, Payne testified that an officer’s focus must be in gaining control of the suspect’s hands.
“The hands are the most, and I can’t stress this enough, important thing in law enforcement as far as control,” Payne said.
It is imperative for an officer to gain control of a suspect, Payne testified, which entails being able to properly handcuff the suspect’s hands behind his back and have the suspect obey verbal orders.
“Once control is achieved, force must cease,” Payne said.
Defense attorneys and prosecutor Sanjay Patel gave Payne several “hypothetical” situations, describing different descriptions of the Feb. 24, 2010, encounter between law enforcement officers and Billy Randall Stinnett.
Putting himself in the situation, Payne said that if he came around a corner during a chase and was face-to-face with a frantic Stinnett in a dead end who was not surrendering, the distance between he and the suspect would determine a lot about his reaction. No officer should go into a situation with a predetermined reaction, Payne said. If Stinnett appeared to have something in his hands and was not obeying vocal commands, Payne said a baton would be an appropriate tool to pull out. There is no time to determine exactly what is in Stinnett’s hands, Payne testified, and use of force with the baton would be reasonable.
If he rounded that corner and saw Stinnett put his hands behind his head and start to go to the ground, Payne testified that he would still not be comfortable with the situation as a law enforcement officer because he would not be able to see Stinnett’s hands. He would request Stinnett to show his hands, and if he did not comply, Payne said he would still consider use of the baton to be appropriate, even if Stinnett was not fleeing. Payne might have pulled his firearm if a suspect hid his hands like that, he said.
If officers are in a physical struggle on the ground and the suspect is intentionally hiding his arms beneath him, Payne testified that he thinks striking the suspect with fists or applying pressure point pain would have been reasonable uses of force. The bruises on Stinnett in photographs taken by the FBI would be a reasonable result of proper force, Payne said. In that type of struggle, Payne also said that other bruises on Stinnett’s back, arms and legs could fall under reasonable use of force when an officer is using pain to gain compliance.
In that type of struggle, Brian Butler and Buddy Alexander, attorneys for Guffey and Bennett, respectively, both asked Payne if he thought an officer using the phrase “tunnel vision” to describe why he could not remember what other officers in the struggle were doing would be unusual, and Payne said no. He would actually like to have officers who were focused on getting control of the hands and not paying attention to other details, Payne said.
“It’s not uncommon to not know what’s going on around them,” Payne said.
Accidental baton strikes to the head are quite common in fights, Payne testified. However, an intentional blow to the head with a baton could be considered deadly force, and Payne said that is never acceptable.
It would also be unacceptable and excessive force if any officer ever hit a suspect in any way once the suspect was in handcuffs, Payne testified. Once a suspect is handcuffed, Payne said they are the responsibility of the officer.
“Their safety and their welfare is now the officer’s duty,” Payne said.
The first thing officers should do after properly handcuffing a suspect is to slow down and conduct a thorough search, Payne testified. After the incident, Payne said most officers are trained to document their use of force in some way, whether in a special form or a general report. The suspect’s resistance, officer’s use of force and reasoning behind his use of force, and any injuries to the suspect or officer should all be thoroughly documented, Payne said.
Following Payne’s testimony, True rested the case for Eaton.
Butler then called Barren-Edmonson County Drug Task Force Director Jeff Scruggs to the stand. Scruggs was a Kentucky State Trooper for 29 years before he formed and became director of the task force. Guffey has worked for Scruggs for almost four years, and the task force is a small group of less than 10 employees.
When asked about Scruggs’ opinion of Guffey’s honesty and moral character, Scruggs testified that he considers Guffey truthful and his character to be “excellent.”
When Scruggs found out about the federal investigation into Feb. 24, 2010, he called FBI agent Mike Brown and asked him if any of his detectives were in legal trouble, Scruggs testified. Brown told him that if his detectives were not wearing uniforms, which none of them were, then they would be fine, Scruggs said.
At the end of 2010, Adam Minor, originally a defendant and now a government cooperating witness, was assigned to the drug task force. Scruggs testified that he called Brown to ask about Minor, and Scruggs said Brown told him he didn’t think he would use Minor as a federal witness.
At the time of that conversation about Minor, Patel said in cross examination that Minor at the time was not cooperating with the government, so Brown had reason to believe Minor was lying. Since then, Minor has begun cooperating with the government, Patel said.
When asked if he would change his opinion of Guffey if Guffey had used excessive force, allowed other officers to use excessive force or made false statements to federal agents, Scruggs answered the question by saying that if someone did any of those things, it would be improper.
In the case of Minor, who worked for Scruggs for about a year, Scruggs testified that he considered his character to be “questionable.”
ATF agent and member of the Bowling Green-Warren County Drug Task Force David Hayes was the last witness before Butler and Alexander rested their cases. Hayes testified that in his limited experience working with Guffey on five or six cases and knowing his reputation in the local law enforcement community, he considered Guffey to be trustworthy and “an outstanding officer.” However, Hayes told Patel on cross examination that his opinion of Guffey would change if he had used or allowed excessive force or made false statements.