2008 jail beating leads to criminal trials, federal lawsuit

civil, criminal cases tied to '08 incident

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comJuly 25, 2011 

A 2008 beating of a Floyd County jail inmate that court documents say involved him being "brutally and savagely tortured" by as many as 10 inmates over three days is now the focus of several criminal trials set for early next year and a pending civil trial in federal court.

In 2008, Terry Fisher pleaded guilty to third-degree unlawful transaction with a minor and third-degree sexual abuse. He was accused of giving a cigarette to a 12-year-old and grabbing the minor between the legs.

After entering the guilty plea, Fisher, then 44, was beaten by several other inmates at the Floyd County Detention Center, according to court documents.

At the jail, "Fisher suffered broken ribs, a broken back, fractures of his skull and facial bones," said an amended complaint filed in a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Pikeville in January.

On the third day of the mistreatment, another inmate led Fisher around the cell on a leash, the complaint said.

Fisher was removed from the cell and provided medical attention "only when the inmates in Mr. Fisher's cell, who were afraid they might have fatally beaten Mr. Fisher, summoned the guards on duty," the complaint said.

When taken to a hospital, Fisher was in a near vegetative state, had a shoeprint on the side of his head and needed to be placed on a ventilator to keep breathing, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit filed by Fisher's niece, Tina Green, against jail officials said Fisher could no longer make decisions for himself, among other disabilities he suffered as a result of the beating.

Green's attorney, Gregory Belzley, said that Green and Fisher declined to comment for this story.

A criminal trial involving charges of first-degree assault is scheduled Feb. 6 in Floyd Circuit Court for then-inmates Ivan Gunnels, Matthew Ritchie, Stephen Jervis, Kevin Woods, Larry Adkins and Christopher Newsome, a former social worker in Floyd County. They have all pleaded not guilty.

An April federal court filing said that one defendant who faced a first-degree assault charge, Michael Rowland, had died since the charge was filed.

First-degree assault is a Class B felony punishable by 10 to 20 years in prison.

Three other defendants were charged with fourth-degree assault. One of them, Kenneth J. Paige, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 months in jail.

A September hearing is scheduled for the other two defendants charged with the misdemeanor, David Johnson and Ronald Spurlock. They have pleaded not guilty.

In the civil case, the amended complaint states that Richard Rankin, who worked at the jail, disclosed Fisher's charges to other inmates in his cell, and then took "no further action to protect him."

But Stacey Blankenship, an attorney representing both the county and Rankin, said in an email last week that no jail official told inmates the nature of Fisher's charges.

Blankenship said inmates learned that Fisher pleaded guilty to third-degree transaction with a minor and third-degree sexual abuse either in open court or because Fisher told them.

"Floyd County and their officials adamantly deny any wrongdoing and are confident that they will ultimately be successful in this case," the attorney said.

Blankenship said Fisher was placed in a protective custody cell reserved for sex offenders and confidential informants on Aug. 7, 2008. She said a little more than two days later deputy jailers were summoned to the cell by other inmates.

"It was discovered that Mr. Fisher had been severely beaten," Blankenship said.

Floyd Commonwealth's Attorney Brent Turner said in an interview last week that Fisher might not have been beaten because he abused a child. Other inmates in the jail at the same time were accused of more serious crimes against children and were not attacked, Turner said.

Turner said the beating might have been because Fisher was perceived as an easy target. "In reality, ... you have a guy who was ... a shy, pitiful type of individual that lent himself to getting picked on," he said.

Turner said the criminal cases have been delayed in part because they are complicated by the number of defendants.

Meanwhile, hearings continued this month in the federal civil case. That trial is on hold until the criminal charges are resolved, according to federal court records.

Reach Valarie Honeycutt Spears at (859) 231-3409 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3409.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service