The Justice Department announced on Monday that two former deputy jailers were charged with violating a detainee’s civil rights by beating him to death and refusing to provide medical care. One of the deputies was also charged with obstruction of justice after allegedly attempting to cover up the incident.
On July 5, 2013, Larry Trent was charged with DUI and pleaded not guilty on July 8. The next morning, Trent had been found unresponsive in a holding cell and transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead. Kentucky River Regional Jail guards Damon Hickman and William Howell admitted to beating Trent that morning but denied causing his death.
At 7:20 a.m. on July 9, 2013, deputies Hickman and Howell claim they opened Trent’s cell door to confiscate contraband items, including two mats, blankets, clothes, and other items he was not allowed. According to Howell’s incident report, Trent came out of the cell fighting and was unaffected by Howell’s Taser. After reportedly stealing Howell’s Taser, Trent was eventually subdued and placed in a holding cell.
Although the observation log showed that Trent did not require medical attention and had been checked every 20 minutes after the altercation, Hickman and Howell allegedly refused to give Trent medical assistance and falsified the report. Two days after the incident, an emergency-called jail board meeting discovered that Trent’s death could have been prevented if the jail nurse had treated him sooner. But Hickman and Howell had told the nurse not to treat him. Hickman also falsified the observation log by claiming that the dying inmate was “10-4.”
An official cause of death has not been released, but the state medical examiner’s preliminary report cited “jail beating” as the cause of Trent’s injuries. The report found Trent had suffered “blunt impacts of the head, trunk, and extremities with multiple skeletal and visceral injuries.”
“He was beaten very bad in the groin, in his head, and he had boot prints through here,” Trent’s daughter Jennifer Brewer said, motioning toward her chest.
After the incident, Howell cited jail employee James Combs for not assisting in the vicious beating. According to Howell’s report, Combs “would not help in a fight, stood and watched, then walked off.”
Even though Hickman had been fired in 2005, the former deputy jailer was hired back in 2006. When asked why Hickman was reinstated, Kentucky River Regional Jail Administrator Tim Kilburn told WYMT, “I have no clue. The board does the hiring and firing.”
Hickman and Howell were initially charged with first-degree manslaughter. On Monday, the Justice Department announced that a federal grand jury indicted them for depriving Trent’s constitutional rights by excessively beating him and refusing to provide him with necessary medical care. Hickman was also charged with obstruction of justice for making false entries in an official log.
Hickman and Howell face a maximum penalty of life in prison for the death-resulting civil rights offense, and face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison for assaulting Trent. Hickman faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for falsification of records in a federal investigation.