A former deputy at the regional jail in Perry County pleaded guilty Wednesday to beating an inmate who later died.
Damon Wayne Hickman, 39, faces up to 40 years in prison under the plea.
Hickman pleaded guilty to three charges: using excessive force against Larry Trent; deliberately failing to get medical help for him; and putting a false entry in a log book indicating Trent was OK after the assault, when he wasn’t.
The purpose of the false entry was to obstruct an investigation, Hickman acknowledged in his plea.
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The assault that led to the charges happened early on July 9, 2013, at the Kentucky River Regional Jail in Hazard, where Trent, 54, was being held on a charge of driving under the influence.
When Hickman and Curtis Howell, another deputy jailer, tried to remove a mat from Trent’s cell, he ran out flailing his arms, according to a court document.
Hickman forced Trent to the floor, and then Hickman and Howell kicked and punched him, Hickman acknowledged in his plea.
The two allegedly left Trent bleeding on the floor of a cell.
A maintenance worker found him unresponsive about four hours later. The main cause of Trent’s death was internal bleeding caused by a pelvic fracture, but he had injuries to his head, torso and limbs, according to court documents.
The initial charge against Hickman was that his failure to get medical help for Trent resulted in Trent’s death, but he pleaded guilty to language saying his failure resulted in serious injury to Trent.
The distinction is important because if Hickman had acknowledged his conduct resulted in Trent’s death, the maximum penalty would have been life in prison.
The top sentence on the lesser charge is 10 years.
Prosecutors alleged that Hickman and Howell also hit inmates on several other occasions.
A grand jury indicted Hickman in two of those cases.
In one, he allegedly punched Alexander Taulbee in the ear while guards were searching Taulbee as he was being booked into the jail in October 2011.
In the other, the grand jury charged that Hickman punched and kicked Gary Hill in November 2012 because he was mad about Hill spraying water in his cell, then punched Hill several more times after he’d been strapped into a restraint chair.
The government will seek to dismiss those charges when Hickman is sentenced in Trent’s case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Hydee Hawkins said in court Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Amul R. Thapar scheduled Hickman to be sentenced Feb. 7 and ordered that Hickman remain on home detention until then.
The charges against Howell were continued after his attorney said an evaluation showed he is not competent to stand trial.