Pulaski sheriff's deputy indicted for allegedly using excessive force

bestep@herald-leader.comJune 27, 2013 

Photo by Thinkstockphoto.com

A Pulaski County sheriff's deputy used excessive force against two people, a federal grand jury charged Thursday.

The grand jury indicted Steve Molen on two counts of violating the victims' right not to be subjected to unreasonable force by a police officer.

Molen came under federal scrutiny after witnesses in a January 2011 court hearing in Pulaski County described more than half-dozen times when Molen was accused of hitting people or treating them roughly, sometimes while they were handcuffed.

Those witnesses included Somerset police officers who said they saw Molen hit people without justification.

Molen's attorney, Patrick F. Nash, said he is confident that Molen will be exonerated when a trial jury hears the whole story.

Pulaski County Sheriff Todd Wood said Thursday that he will meet with his command staff and evaluate whether to assign Molen, 48, to an administrative job while the federal charges are pending.

Wood said he respects federal prosecutors, but he supports Molen and other sheriff's office employees. Molen became a deputy in 2005 and has led the department in drunken-driving arrests, Wood said.

"Deputy Molen has been a tremendous asset to our office," Wood said.

Molen was not arrested after the indictment. U.S. Magistrate Judge Hanly A. Ingram issued a summons directing Molen to appear in court July 11.

The two cases of alleged excessive force covered in Thursday's indictment occurred in October 2009 and October 2011, according to the news release from U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey.

Molen injured both victims, according to the indictment, which identified them only by their initials.

The initials of one matched those of Danny Whitaker, a Pulaski County tow-truck operator whom Molen arrested on charges of fleeing, menacing and resisting arrest in October 2009. Molen said in a citation that Whitaker acted aggressively after Molen pulled him over for speeding.

Molen said he hit Whitaker only one time after Whitaker struggled with him and reached toward his back pocket, causing a concern that he had a weapon. But Whitaker, who has sons who are police officers, said in a lawsuit that Molen punched and kicked him repeatedly without provocation, then twisted his arm violently behind his back.

In fighting the charges, Whitaker's attorney, Scott T. Foster, called witnesses to testify about Molen's alleged brutality in hopes of showing he had a pattern of assaulting people and then filing unfounded charges against them to cover up his conduct.

Federal prosecutors from Lexington and Washington, D.C., will handle the charges against Molen, Harvey said.

Molen could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1.

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