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Suit: Guards beat inmate who died

The family of Gerald L. Cornett, an inmate who died in 2005 of head injuries suffered in a fall at the Fayette County jail, alleges that two jail guards beat him, resulting in six broken ribs, according to court documents.

With the exception of a few old bruises, Cornett was not injured when he was taken to the Fayette County Detention Center, but medical reports after Cornett's death and an autopsy "show extensive injuries, including old and new bruises and six fractured ribs," his family said in a brief filed last week in U.S. District Court.

Cornett arrived at the emergency room in such a battered state that a University of Kentucky police officer called Lexington police to report a possible "violent crime," the filing said.

According to the filing, jail guards Clarence McCoy and Maria Jones, who is now known as Maria Gaines, acknowledged they were alone with Cornett "for three to five minutes, applying 'pain compliance techniques.'"

The claim of excessive force was added to the Cornett family's lawsuit against the city last year, after federal indictments of five former jail officers on charges they beat inmates and then conspired to cover it up by writing bogus reports and threatening others to keep quiet.

The indictments covered alleged beatings at the jail between January and October 2006. Cornett's case is not mentioned in the federal indictments. He died in 2005 before the federal investigation had begun. That case is pending.

Cornett's family initially sued in 2006, saying that officers failed to get him appropriate medical attention, a charge the city has denied.

None of the five former officers is currently employed at the jail.

The city declined to comment on the Cornett family's most recent filing because the case is still pending, said Susan Straub, a city spokeswoman.

McCoy, one of the five officers indicted last year, was named in the brief as one of the officers involved in the alleged beating of Cornett in August 2005.

In all, three of the five indicted officers were on duty in the intake area the night Cornett, 45, fell in the intake area and hit his head. The inmate later died at UK Hospital.

The other two indicted officers who were at the jail were Anthony Estep, who received the paperwork from the police department and observed whether there were any issues with Cornett, and Kristine LaFoe, the third-shift supervisor that night.

Cornett fell just before having his photograph taken. He asked to lie down after his photo was taken.

He had been lying down in a cell in the intake area for an hour and a half when McCoy entered to test his blood alcohol level and Jones arrived to collect Cornett to fingerprint him, documents show.

McCoy attempted to wake Cornett but he was unresponsive, so McCoy applied force in the form of a "sternum rub" in which "a guard rubs the knuckles of his or her hand, sometimes hard, across the sternum, or the center of the chest," the filing said.

Then, Jones and McCoy both applied a "clavicle notch," a "pressure point technique" where a thumb is pressed by the collarbone "and it causes a pain reflex," the filing said.

The nurse on duty was called in to assist and an ambulance was eventually called, the filing said.

Gregory Davis, the doctor who performed Cornett's autopsy, did not find evidence of an assault, but he has testified there were only three possible causes for the broken ribs: CPR, the fall or a kicking-type injury, the filing said.

CPR was not performed on Cornett, and two other doctors have testified that the fall did not break his ribs, the court document said. "Therefore that leaves only a 'kicking-type injury,' " the filing said.

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