Judge’s ruling not to dismiss suit against 5 Fayette jail officers upheld

Fayette County Detention Center in Lexington.
Fayette County Detention Center in Lexington.

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell’s 2015 decision not to dismiss five Fayette County Detention Center corrections officers from a wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit filed in 2012 by an inmate’s estate.

Caldwell had said in a strongly worded order dated July 1, 2015, that there was evidence that officers at the Fayette County jail used excessive force on an inmate who died when he was being held in 2012.

Jeffrey McKinney, 37, serving a 14-day sentence after pleading guilty to a second offense of driving while impaired, died after a seizure while being restrained by corrections officers who perceived his behavior as combative.

“It is not clear that the officers needed to apply force at all,” Caldwell wrote in 2015. “The officers were responding to a medical emergency, McKinney only exhibited defensive resistance after officers escalated the use of force, and McKinney did not actively threaten anyone.

“The officers 'got physical' with McKinney, applied mandibular angle pressure-point control techniques, administered a two-second burst of pepper spray, secured him in a restraint chair for over 13 minutes, struck him with their knees, pinned him down ... and physically struggled with him for over seven minutes. Further, this altercation ultimately ended in McKinney's death. McKinney experienced significant injury” because of the use of force, Caldwell wrote.

While the Court of Appeals upheld Caldwell’s decision on five corrections officers — Randy Jones, Nicholas Elko, Eric Legear, Adam Moss and Donald Womack — it reversed Caldwell’s decision on requests by corrections officers Clarissa Arnold and Regina Powell to be dismissed from the suit.

The McKinney estate said in its response to the officers’ motions that it no longer desired to pursue its claims against Arnold and Powell and had no objection to dismissing the claims against those officers, the appeals court ruling issued on Thursday said.

McKinney, a father of four, had seizures at the jail after a jail nurse made a decision that he should slowly be withdrawn from the anti-seizure medicine he brought to the jail with him, court documents said.

The civil trial, which had been postponed pending appeal, is now expected to proceed.

Kevin Fox, an attorney representing McKinney’s estate, said Friday his clients were happy with the ruling, “and just ready for the matter to be set for trial.”

An attorney representing several of the corrections officers told the Herald-Leader in 2015 that they were appealing because they did not agree with Caldwell’s order.

City officials said in 2012 that they thought jail staff acted appropriately to subdue McKinney, who was “displaying forceful behavior.”

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears