By AMANDA LOVIZA VICKERY
Glasgow Daily Times
BOWLING GREEN —
Billy Randall Stinnett, Jessie Barton and Adam Minor all agree that at least Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton assaulted Stinnett on Feb. 24, 2010. However, the testimonies of those three key witnesses in a federal deprivation of rights case against Eaton, Deputy Aaron Bennett and Barren-Edmonson Drug Task Force Detective Eric Guffey don’t completely agree.
Former deputy and government cooperating witness Adam Minor, Glasgow Police Sgt. Jessie Barton and allegedly beaten Billy Stinnett have each taken the stand this week in the trial in U.S. District Court Western District of Kentucky in Bowling Green.
According to Stinnett’s Thursday testimony, after he crashed his van at Calvary Baptist Church and bailed out on Feb. 24, 2010, he continued to look for a way to outrun the police.
“I didn’t want to go to prison. … I had a [methamphetamine] lab in the vehicle,” Stinnett told U.S. Department of Justice civil rights prosecuting attorney Sanjay Patel.
He ran through the alley where he had crashed his van and turned left, where he found a dead end between church buildings. He tried to get into a door to the church, but it was locked, Stinnett said. He turned back from the door, looking for another way out, and he ran back and forth a bit, he said.
“I turned around, kind of frantic,” Stinnett said. “I looked around for another place to run.”
Instead of seeing a place to run, Stinnett said he saw Eaton closing in on him.
“I gave myself up,” Stinnett said. “I put my hands to my head, started to go down to the ground.”
In interviews throughout the federal investigation, Eaton has stated that Stinnett did not surrender, and he appeared to have something in his hand that may have been a weapon. Stinnett also has several convictions of fleeing and evading police before Feb. 24, 2010, as defense attorneys discussed in cross examination, giving Eaton no reason to believe he would surrender.
As Eaton ran toward him, Stinnett alleged that Eaton said, “You didn’t think it’d be me, did you” and a profane name, and then Eaton hit Stinnett on the head with his baton, cutting Stinnett’s head. After the first blow, Stinnett testified that he started bleeding, his vision went red and his ears started ringing. Eaton raised his baton to hit him on the head again, Stinnett said, and Stinnett used his elbow to protect himself, taking the second baton blow to the elbow. Eaton hit him with a baton a total of four times that he can remember, Stinnett said, once on the back, and then after Stinnett kicked Eaton in the leg with a steel-toed boot, Eaton struck Stinnett across the legs with his baton.
“Somewhere in there, other officers had arrived,” Stinnett testified. “They were striking me, punching me. At some point, one of them put cuffs on me.”
Minor testified that Stinnett never kicked Eaton, but that Eaton allegedly got hit in the leg by a baton that Bennett was using to strike Stinnett. Stinnett said he only remembered Eaton using a baton, but could not say for certain whether another officer also used a baton.
Stinnett does not remember any of the officers kicking him, he said. Minor testified on Tuesday and Wednesday that when he approached the scene, Eaton and Guffey already had Stinnett in handcuffs, and he was not being beaten. Minor immediately ran up and kicked Stinnett twice, and Bennett and Eaton followed suit with punches and baton strikes. In Stinnett’s testimony, there were no kicks and there was not a pause in the beating from the time Eaton allegedly hit him on the head until Minor pulled him out from under the other officers. And although Stinnett said he considered Minor a friend, he did not recognize Minor as one of the officers beating him. He only noticed Minor when he allegedly pulled Stinnett out from under the other officers.
During the beating, Stinnett noticed a name tag that said Bennett on an officer who was punching him in the head, he testified. That testimony varied from his first interview with FBI Agent Mike Brown on March 4, 2010, in which Stinnett said he saw the Bennett name tag at the hospital, but Patel asked Stinnett whether his memories changed as his head got clearer once he was in prison and no longer injecting methamphetamine, and Stinnett said that was the case.
True questioned Stinnett’s lack of memory of the details of the alleged beating, juxtaposing that apparent confusion on Stinnett’s part with Stinnett’s ability to recite in court Thursday nearly every turn he made during his hour-long car chase with police.
Except for attempts to protect himself from blows, Stinnett said he was never resistant or combative as the officers allegedly beat him. None of the officers gave him any verbal commands to surrender or show his hands, Stinnett said.
Barton came on the scene after the apprehension, he testified, but it was only 30 seconds to a minute after the radio dispatch that reported Stinnett had crashed his van. He came across Eaton first, who was next to a house almost to Cherry Street, and he continued past that house and through its backyard, until he could see down a walkway to where Minor and Bennett were picking a handcuffed Stinnett off the ground. Barton met the deputies as they escorted Stinnett to a cruiser. Bennett moved to another area, and it was Barton and Minor who walked with Stinnett through the alley in which he had crashed his van, moving toward Cherry Street, Barton testified. That testimony was a change from the statements and testimony Barton gave the first two years of the investigation, in which he said he was farther away from Stinnett.
Minor testified that during that walk through the alley, he pushed Stinnett down a slope, and Stinnett landed face-first. Neither Barton nor Stinnett remembered that occurring, they testified. Minor also testified that another Barren County deputy walked up and punched Stinnett in the head, but Stinnett said he does not remember that, and Barton said he did not witness it.
As they exited the alley, Barton and Minor both testified that Eaton walked up to Stinnett and punched him in the groin or stomach area. According to Barton’s testimony, just before hitting him Eaton said, “You didn’t expect to see me here, did you” and a profane name. Stinnett does not remember ever getting hit in the groin or stomach by Eaton or any other officers, he testified, and True made it a point to discuss that during cross-examination of all three witnesses.
“Wouldn’t you think that Billy Randall Stinnett would be in the best position to know whether Eaton struck him in the groin or stomach?” True asked Barton.
True used an aerial diagram of the Calvary Baptist Church property to have Barton explain where they were when Eaton allegedly hit Stinnett in the groin. Using the aerial shot, Barton indicated a location that was between the house and the church building Stinnett crashed into, past the alley and the end of the fence line that paralleled it. Later, True had Barton examine a photograph that focused on Stinnett’s van, but showed Stinnett and some officers in the corner of the photo. In that photo, Stinnett was lying on the ground and Minor was bent over him. Barton, Eaton and another officer are standing over them. When asked about the photograph, Barton told True that it was taken just after Eaton had hit Stinnett in the groin. The photograph was taken well within the alley, in between Eaton’s vehicle and Stinnett’s van. When Minor was asked about the photograph, he identified it as the moment he searched Stinnett and Eaton allegedly pulled a knife out of Stinnett’s pocket. Stinnett testified that he remembered lying on the ground in the alley at some point, having Minor ask him about what was in his pockets.
Stinnett surrendered to Eaton in that dead end because he did not want Eaton to shoot him, he testified. However, during cross examination, Brian Butler, defense attorney for Guffey, reviewed several recorded jail phone calls Stinnett made to various friends and family. In one conversation with his mother, Stinnett said he didn’t care “if he lived or died” the day of Feb. 24, 2010. As a thin man, much taller than Eaton, Stinnett was asked whether, high on meth at the time, he thought to himself that he could overpower Eaton. Stinnett insisted that he only surrendered.
Stinnett also testified that he had nothing in his hands in that dead end, unlike what Eaton has told investigators. Eaton has said that Stinnett had something in his hand, and in the moment in looked like a weapon. Stinnett testified that he had nothing in his hand, but Butler played a recorded jail conversation between Stinnett and an ex-girlfriend in which Stinnett said that the officers thought he had a knife in his hand, but he only had a vial of meth in his hand. A vial containing meth was recovered from the scene.
Several additional recorded conversations, as well as Stinnett’s deposition in a civil lawsuit he filed against the officers present at his arrest, have Stinnett making comments that the FBI and the federal government are helping him in his case. In the deposition, Stinnett wrote that “Mr. Brown is helping me provide solid evidence of my claim.” Under direct examination by Patel, Stinnett said neither the federal government nor Brown have offered any help to Stinnett in his civil or criminal case. Under cross examination by True and Butler, Stinnett said his comments to family were just him talking and a hope that a successful FBI investigation would make his civil case stronger. He also told Butler that he asked Brown whether he had grounds to file a lawsuit, and Brown told him he “probably did.”