After pleading guilty to assaulting a handcuffed inmate and filing false reports in an attempt to cover-up their actions, two former correctional officers at the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections (LMDC) were recently sentenced. The officer who repeatedly punched the handcuffed man in the face received two years in federal prison, while the sergeant who orchestrated the subsequent cover-up was sentenced to eight months of house arrest.
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.
On May 8, 2019, 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, 2019, 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.
In October 2019, 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.
On Thursday, the Justice Department announced that Schwartz has been sentenced to 24 months in federal prison, while Gentry received eight months of home confinement.
“These officers violated their oath to defend the laws of our nation,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will vigorously seek to uphold the constitutional rights of inmates and will hold our correctional officers accountable for their actions.”
“The rule of law requires holding everyone to this same standard regardless of position of authority,” stated U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman for the Western District of Kentucky. “The conduct here is an aberration among our city’s fine public safety professionals and I am grateful for the KY Public Corruption Civil Rights Task Force and our career federal prosecutors who achieved justice in the result.”
“Corrections officers have extremely difficult jobs; however, our community demands these officers conduct themselves professionally. Through the Kentucky Public Corruption Civil Rights Task Force, FBI Louisville will continue to aggressively investigate any public official that abuses those they have been sworn to protect,” asserted Special Agent in Charge Robert Brown, FBI Louisville Field Office.
Edwards is currently scheduled to be sentenced on March 5.