After almost four days of trial, a federal jury deliberated for less than two hours Thursday before finding two former Fayette County Detention Center workers guilty of charges relating to abusing prisoners and trying to cover it up.
Clarence McCoy, a former deputy jailer, and John McQueen, a former sergeant assigned to the third-shift prisoner intake unit, were found guilty on all counts in U.S. District Court on Thursday.
McQueen was convicted of one count each of conspiracy to deprive rights under color of law, falsifying records with intent to obstruct investigation, tampering with a witness, and two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law.
McCoy was convicted of one count each of conspiracy to deprive rights under color of law, deprivation of rights, and falsifying records, with two counts of aiding and abetting other officers in abusive acts.
The falsifying records and tampering with a witness charges each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The conspiracy to deprive rights and deprivation of rights charges each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The two were allowed to stay free on bond until sentencing Aug. 31.
Three other jail workers who were originally indicted in the case entered guilty pleas last year. Former Lt. Kristine Lafoe, Sgt. Anthony Estep, and deputy jailer Scott Tyree all accepted plea deals in May.
The charges stemmed from reports that jail officials assaulted pre-trial detainees — people being held following an arrest but prior to conviction. On several occasions, the jailers slammed detainees' heads onto the triage counter in the prisoner intake area or otherwise assaulted or planned to assault them, according to court records.
Records said the acts occurred when prisoners were not "resisting or posing a threat to any officer."
The men then wrote false reports or failed to file reports about the incidents; they took place in 2006, court records said.
"The justice system did its job in this case, which dates back to 2006," Mayor Jim Newberry said in a statement. "During my administration we have not had additional charges of abuse at the jail thanks in part to changes we have made concerning intake and video monitoring."
Attorneys began closing arguments around 1 p.m. Thursday.
Defense attorney Andrew Stephens told the court much of the evidence they saw over the course of the trial, including surveillance video of the assaults, had been taken out of context.
Each of those videos, Stephens argued, showed the incident but not the events leading up to it. In one case, he said, an inmate had tried to get out of his handcuffs, potentially freeing him to attack officers. In another, a prisoner who looked "frail" on video had earlier escaped from a police cruiser, showing he was not as helpless as he looked, Stephens said.
"It is a signal: 'Watch out for this guy,' he said. "He was a risk."
Pam Ledgewood, another attorney for the defendants, said use of force by the officers was in response to perceived threats; she said inmates often bit, spat on, kicked and verbally abused officers.
In that environment, she said, "is it shocking ... that the slightest twitch, the slightest movement, becomes a threat?"
However, prosecutor Jared Fishman of the U.S. Department of Justice said the use of force was not justified in McQueen's and McCoy's case.
"These people were assaulted after any threat was over," Fishman said. He acknowledged that some of the prisoners' rights were given up after an arrest, but that no one loses the right "to be free from unlawful abuse."
The videos presented to the jury were "snapshots of an overall picture of the way things were done," Fishman said. "They were part of a culture of abuse."
That incident reports were often falsified or written in code was proof, Fishman said, of a conspiracy at the jail to cover up prisoner abuse.
Ledgewood denied that code words in incident reports were placed there as part of a conspiracy, but rather as shorthand.
"In all jobs, we all speak in codes," she said.