Two former correctional officers at the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections (LMDC) pleaded guilty Thursday to assaulting a handcuffed inmate and filing false reports in an attempt to cover-up their actions. A third officer, who previously pleaded guilty to assaulting the detainee and failing to intervene, recorded part of the beating after accidentally turning on his body camera.
On April 18, 2018, LMDC correctional officers David Schwartz and Devan Edwards removed inmate Terry Whitehead from his cell, handcuffed him, and took him to a holding cell outside the view of surveillance cameras. In the holding cell, while Whitehead was seated, handcuffed, and not resisting, Schwartz grabbed the inmate by the neck with his right hand and began to strangle him.
As Whitehead struggled to breathe, Schwartz released his grip before repeatedly punching him in the head. Accidentally activating his body camera, Edwards recorded Whitehead with a swollen eye and pleading with the officers when Schwartz suddenly punched him in the face for no justifiable reason.
After the assault, Schwartz wrote a false and misleading report, in which he intentionally omitted the fact that he had used force against Whitehead. Schwartz also wrote a citation falsely charging Whitehead with felony third-degree assault.
After learning that Edwards had accidentally turned on his body camera and recorded part of that assault, Sgt. Donna Gentry wrote and filed a false report, in which she included false statements and made material omissions about the excessive force used by Officers Schwartz and Edwards. She then directed Edwards to review her report and provide the same false account in his own report, changing the wording so that it would not be obvious that he had copied from her report.
“Correctional officers are sworn to uphold and defend the laws of our nation and to ensure the safety of the inmates under their control,” stated Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “These defendants knowingly violated the constitutional rights of an inmate and then lied to cover it up, thereby abusing the powers that the public entrusted to them. The Department of Justice will continue to hold correctional officers accountable for their actions.”
“This Commonwealth is well-served by many dedicated and under-appreciated corrections officers and deputy jailers; however taking that oath means something,” said U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman for the Western District of Kentucky. “Those that view it as mere words and not a solemn vow to uphold the constitutional rights of Kentuckians will face federal prosecution.”
On May 8, Gentry and Schwartz were charged with violating the civil rights of an inmate, writing false reports, and obstructing justice for their roles in the assault of an inmate who was handcuffed and not resisting, and in the attempt to cover up the misconduct afterward by writing false reports and tampering with witnesses. Edwards was charged with a federal felony offense for his role in the assault.
On May 16, Edwards pleaded guilty to assaulting the detainee and failing to intervene to prevent Schwartz from assaulting him. Edwards faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
On Thursday, Schwartz pleaded guilty to one count of depriving Whitehead of his right to be free from excessive force (resulting in bodily injury), and two counts of filing false reports. Gentry pleaded guilty to one count of obstructing justice for filing the false report and persuading another officer (Edwards) to file a false report.
Schwartz faces a statutory maximum term of imprisonment of 50 years and a $750,000 fine, while Gentry faces a statutory maximum term of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but their actual sentences will be calculated with reference to the advisory federal sentencing guidelines. A sentencing hearing is currently scheduled for February 27.
Schwartz had a previous misdemeanor conviction stemming from a domestic dispute. He had also been discharged with an “other than honorable” classification from the Marine Corps.
Gentry had on her record more than 30 disciplines and reprimands, along with 12 suspensions for a total of 37 days.