Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

December 31, 2013

Defendants answer amended complaint in Stinnett civil suit

By MELINDA J. OVERSTREET
Glasgow Daily Times

GLASGOW — Two of the five defendants have filed their responses to an updated complaint in a federal civil lawsuit filed by Billy Randall Stinnett against law enforcement officers who arrested him.

The suit names Chris Eaton, Aaron Bennett, Eric Guffey, Robert McCown and Adam Minor as defendants, and it alleges that then-Sheriff Eaton and the others, who were all deputies at the time, beat Stinnett, destroyed some evidence and manufactured other evidence, gave false statements and coerced witnesses to give false statements.

In a two-week federal criminal trial in 2013 that addressed essentially the same issues, Eaton was acquitted of the beating-related charge but found guilty of two witness-tampering counts. He remains free on bond while his appeal is pending. Former Deputy Adam Minor received a probated sentence in exchange for his cooperation with the prosecution and pleading guilty to making a false statement. The others were found not guilty of all charges against them.

The civil case was put on hold until the criminal trial was concluded, and amended versions of the initial complaint have since been filed. These responses were filed just before Christmas.

The response filed on behalf of Eaton, Bennett, Guffey and McCown by Bowling Green firm English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley states as its first defense that Stinnett’s complaint “fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted” and denies all allegations not specifically admitted to within the response document.

Stinnett’s most recent revision of his complaint, filed by his new attorney, Laura E. Landenwich of Louisville, states he is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, “in amounts to be proven at trial.” And the response from Eaton and the three others states they plead and rely upon sovereign, governmental or municipal immunity laws “so as to bar any recovery by the Plaintiff.” It continues that, as “an arm and political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” they are entitled to immunity from suit under the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and that they are also entitled to qualified immunity because “during the times alleged in the Plaintiff’s complaint … they were acting in good faith, with objective reasonableness, and performing discretionary functions.”

The response enumerates constitutional reasons why they are immune from punitive damages in particular.

In its list of other defenses, the response goes through each particular accusation and denies it, and it also states that Stinnett’s claims are barred by the fact that he pleaded guilty in Barren County to assault of a police officer and resisting arrest.

The response filed on behalf of Minor by attorney Robert Bond, of Coleman, Lochmiller & Bond of Elizabethtown, begins similarly to the other, with a denial of allegations and claims of immunity, and it also notes that same guilty plea by Stinnett.

It states that Stinnett’s claims “are barred in whole or in part because [he] has not and cannot show a deliberate indifference by [Minor] of any serious deprivation relating to any serious need and that [Minor] acted toward [Stinnett] with good faith and at all times relative to this action.”

Minor’s response states that to award punitive damages under Kentucky law “without proof of every element beyond a reasonable doubt” and under certain other of the claimed circumstances would violate Minor’s due process rights and the punitive damage issues would have to be separated.

Both responses ask for their respective parties’ costs to be repaid. Minor’s also asks for a jury trial.

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