Bass Webb gets 15 years for assault during jail disturbance

jhewlett@herald-leader.comMarch 15, 2011 

Bass Webb, who has a lengthy criminal record, was found guilty Monday and sentenced to 15 years in prison Monday for assaulting an officer at the Fayette County Detention Center and for being a persistent felony offender.

Webb, a prisoner at the detention center, was accused of throwing a metal telephone ripped from a jail wall at corrections officer Bryan Richardson during a disturbance at the jail June 6. The phone cracked a polycarbonate riot shield that Richardson was holding to protect himself, but Richardson was not injured, witnesses testified during the one-day trial.

A Fayette Circuit Court jury found Webb, 31, guilty of third-degree assault and of being a first-degree persistent felony offender. The jury recommended a five-year sentence on the assault conviction, and that the sentence be enhanced to 15 years because of the persistent felon conviction.

Webb waived formal sentencing, and Judge Kimberly Bunnell followed the jury's recommendation. Webb will be eligible for parole after serving 20 percent of his sentence.

Richardson and another officer at the jail, Blake Digue, told jurors that a dozen officers went into Unit H and stood shoulder-to-shoulder, five of them holding riot shields, in their attempt to quell the disturbance. The officers were wearing gas masks and lobbed pepper-spray grenades into the area before entering, according to testimony.

Webb was holding the telephone by its receiver and swinging it, Digue said.

"He was whooping and hollering — taunting," he said.

Webb refused officers' orders to put the phone down and lie on the floor. He was shot in the neck with a pepper ball fired from a launcher and in the thigh by a beanbag fired from a shotgun, and he continued to disobey orders, according to testimony and a video of the disturbance shown to jurors. Several officers eventually subdued Webb, the video showed.

Webb threw the phone after he was hit in the neck, the video showed.

"He threw the telephone and directed it at my head," Richardson testified.

Defense attorney Craig Newbern compared the phone-throwing incident to someone throwing a brick at a brick wall. It's impossible for a thrown brick to injure a person behind the wall, he said.

Newbern said Webb did not attack until he was attacked. After Webb threw the phone, he walked away, the attorney said.

The jail disturbance began after Webb and four other inmates refused to follow an officer's directions to take off the shower shoes they were wearing and put on regular shoes, a spokeswoman at the jail said shortly after the disturbance. The prisoners also balked at returning to their cells after playing basketball in a common area, she said.

Webb was the only prisoner charged in the disturbance, Newbern said.

On Monday, in an attempt to show that Webb was a persistent felon, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Ben Starkey outlined a long list of Webb's felony and misdemeanor convictions during the past several years. The charges, in Fayette, Menifee and Bourbon counties, included assault, theft by unlawful taking and wanton endangerment.

Jurors were not told about charges Webb is currently facing. He is accused of raping and murdering his girlfriend, Bryia Runiewicz, 32, who was found dead in her home in Cynthiana on July 31, 2009. Webb also is charged with murder in the death of former girlfriend Sabrina Marie Vaughn in Montgomery County. Vaughn had been reported missing in 2003.

Webb made headlines last year when a televised image of him spitting at a judge during his arraignment on two attempted murder charges in Bourbon County — he was accused of trying to run over two jail employees with his vehicle — was shown throughout the country. Webb was charged with contempt after the spitting incident.

Reach Jennifer Hewlett at (859) 231-3308 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3308.

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