Convicted on deprivation of rights charges after beating a handcuffed inmate and attempting to cover-up the assault, four former Missouri correctional officers were recently sentenced to federal prison.
On July 4, 2015, a man identified as “J.R.” was detained on a probation violation related to the monitoring of his release conditions for a felony driving while intoxicated conviction. He was detained in the medical housing unit of the Jackson County Detention Center in Kansas City, Missouri, because he was extremely confused and disoriented while experiencing severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
After the intoxicated J.R. attempted to flee the area and had a brief physical struggle with a correctional officer, he was returned to his cell without incident. Upset that the inmate was not placed in a restraint chair due to his alcohol withdrawal, correctional officers Terrance Dooley and Jen-I Pulos falsely accused J.R. of sharpening a comb into a shank in order to move him to a cell that was out of range of any surveillance cameras.
While handcuffed and defenseless in the holding cell, J.R. was attacked by officers Travis Hewitt, Dakota Pearce, Dooley, and Pulos as one of the officers took turns standing watch outside the cell as a lookout.
Several hours after the second incident, medical professionals at the detention center decided to transfer J.R. to Truman Medical Center out of a belief that his alcohol withdrawal symptoms had worsened. Truman Medical personnel working in the emergency room, however, quickly determined that J.R. had sustained significant injuries unrelated to alcohol withdrawal.
Medical personnel ultimately diagnosed J.R. with broken ribs, a punctured lung, facial bruising, and injuries to his wrists. He later settled a lawsuit for $437,500.
In April 2017, Hewitt, Pearce, Dooley, and Pulos were indicted on federal charges for violating the inmate’s civil rights. In October 2019, Hewitt and Dooley were found guilty of participating in a conspiracy to deprive the victim of his civil rights and one count of deprivation of rights.
Pulos and Pearce both had pleaded guilty the week prior to the trial. Pearce pleaded guilty to his role in the conspiracy, and Pulos pleaded guilty to the deprivation of rights.
On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Gary Fenner sentenced Hewitt to 45 months imprisonment and Pulos to 30 months imprisonment. On June 29, Judge Fenner sentenced Dooley to 36 months imprisonment and Pearce to 24 months imprisonment.
“The sentences handed down in this case show that law enforcement officers who break the law, violate their oaths, and deprive inmates of their civil rights will be held accountable for their actions,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division.
“Nobody is above the law,” stated U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison of the Western District of Missouri. “These former corrections officers abused their authority and violated the civil rights of an inmate by physically assaulting him while he was restrained and not posing any threat. As the prosecution of these former officers demonstrates, the Constitution equally protects the rights of all citizens, and equally upholds the accountability of all citizens.”