BOWLING GREEN — According to former Barren County Deputy Joseph Adam Minor, Billy Randall Stinnett was beaten by law enforcement officers while he was in handcuffs on Feb. 24, 2010. The question defense attorneys are putting before a jury in U.S. District Court in Bowling Green is, did Minor lie for the first two years after the incident, or has he been lying for the last year.
Minor was indicted along with Sheriff Chris Eaton, Deputy Aaron Bennett and Barren-Edmonson Drug Task Force Detective Eric Guffey on Feb. 15, 2012, for deprivation of rights and making false statements, for his alleged part in the beating of Stinnett. Like the three defendants now on federal trial, Minor entered an initial plea of not guilty, but on May 1, 2012, entered a guilty plea to one count of making a false statement to federal investigators. Minor has been a cooperating witness for the prosecution for the last year, and for most of Tuesday and Wednesday, Minor told his story on the witness stand.
When the former deputy arrived at the scene of Stinnett's arrest along with Bennett, Stinnett was already in handcuffs and non-combative with Eaton and Guffey, Minor testified under oath Tuesday and Wednesday. Minor approached Stinnett and kicked him at least twice, he said, because he was angry. Bennett began punching Stinnett in the head, and later Eaton and Bennett both struck Stinnett with their asp batons. The assault lasted less than a minute, but he knew there was no call for it, Minor testified. He was unsure, under cross examination, whether Guffey was in the presence of the beating for the whole time or if he left as it began or while it was under way.
The beating ended when Bennett allegedly and accidentally hit Eaton in the leg with his baton, Minor said. Eaton’s defense has maintained that Stinnett kicked Eaton, and upon cross examination J. Guthrie True asked Minor if he knew that Stinnett wrote in a civil deposition that he kicked Eaton. Minor said he was unaware Stinnett said that.
If faced with a combative suspect who appeared to be holding a weapon, as alleged by Eaton, prosecutor Sanjay Patel asked Minor, “would you have pulled out your asp, or your gun?” Probably gun, Minor responded.
Minor's federal court testimony and statements he has given to the U.S. government and FBI since becoming a cooperating witness differ greatly from the statements he made before being indicted, including under oath in Barren District Court and in front of a Barren County grand jury, True said in his cross examination of Minor on Wednesday morning. True walked through Minor's previous testimonies, finding five specific facts in his grand jury testimony that Minor said were lies.
"But you're telling us what you said in this courtroom, under the same oath, is true," Eaton's attorney said.
True asked Minor if it was fair for the courtroom and the jury to conclude that if Minor would lie to a grand jury of his community members that he swore to protect and serve, then he would be "willing to lie to a jury of strangers?"
Minor told True that no, that would not be a fair conclusion. He lied during the previous testimonies, Minor said, but he is now telling the truth.
Minor lied about the events surrounding Stinnett’s arrest once he found out the FBI was investigating because Eaton told him to, Minor said. If he had not cooperated, Minor said he was worried about what Eaton might do.
“I would have been fired, or worse,” Minor said. “I don’t know what he’s capable of.”
After being called to the sheriff department’s office by Detective Rusty Anderson about a week after Stinnett’s arrest, Minor said Eaton supervised him as he wrote a false report about what happened. Minor lied about Stinnett being combative, the handcuffs and other details, Minor testified. Eaton had pulled a knife out of Stinnett’s pocket as Stinnett was being escorted to a cruiser, Minor said, but Eaton had him write in the report that the knife was found on the ground at the scene. The cover-up lies could have been better, Minor said, since the story they told said the knife was unopened on the ground and Stinnett stopped resisting after he was handcuffed.
"If we were going to cover it up, we should have done better than that," Minor said.
As Stinnett was being taken away from the arrest scene, Minor alleged that Eaton walked up to Stinnett and punched him in the groin. That moment was captured in a photograph taken by Trevor Phillips, Minor said, and when the officers were looking at the photo in the office later that week, they laughed about it. Eaton allegedly had Phillips delete the photo. They also laughed about a story Eaton told that when he was screaming into the radio at the end of his pursuit of Stinnett, he was actually faking his screams while he beat Stinnett with a baton, Minor said.
When True asked Minor if he changed his story because he was scared of going to jail or wanted to be sure he got a good deal, Minor said a deal was part of his motivation, but he also wanted to clear Deputy Bobby McCown's name, who was indicted in the Feb. 15, 2012, indictment, but was not present at Stinnett's arrest. However, True told Minor, FBI Agent Mike Brown's notes of his first interview with Minor do not mention McCown or his innocence.
"I repeatedly told them," Minor said.
Brown's notes also said that Minor said he put his own lies in his BCSO report, but Minor told True that he does not remember saying that to Brown. He testified that the lies he put in his BCSO report were made up by Eaton.
True further questioned Minor about the possibility the government needed him to cooperate in order to fill holes in its case, but Minor insisted he told the government the truth, and the prosecutors did not ask him to say certain things.
"They didn't explain to me what I needed to say, I just explained to them the truth," Minor said.
With his plea agreement, Minor is facing a prison sentence of up to 6 months, instead of the anticipated nine years if he were convicted on his original counts. Minor's plea agreement disappears, however, if he lies in his court testimony.