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WCSD deputy resigns
Mar 12, 2004 12:00 am
A Wilson County Sheriff's Department officer has resigned as a "direct result" of an ongoing 14-month federal investigation prompted by the head injury death of a jail inmate.
Sheriff Terry Ashe yesterday confirmed the resignation of Officer John McKinney, a three-year, nine-month veteran of the department who worked as a jail guard before becoming a patrol officer.
"He has resigned and it was a direct result of the investigation," Ashe said when contacted about the officer. "He wrote what I thought was an emotional letter of resignation and it's been placed in his personnel file."
Federal authorities earlier in the week refused to discuss McKinney, saying only that he has not been charged as a result of the investigation. Officials would not comment, however, when asked if the former officer may face charges in the future.
Two former jailers have already pleaded guilty to federal charges and at least two others are considered targets of the investigation, which began with the January 2003 death of inmate Walter S. Kuntz, 43, whose head injury death was labeled a homicide by the state medical examiner.
Kuntz spent some seven hours behind bars after his arrest by Lebanon police before he was found inside his cell in a coma from which he never recovered. An autopsy indicated he sustained injuries consistent with a beating.
Ashe's comments indicated McKinney may have fallen under the scrutiny of U.S. Department of Justice investigators because of departmental reports he filled out while still working as a jailer.
"I'm saddened by the resignation of yet another employee who didn't fill out proper paperwork as it relates to dealing with some inmates," Ashe said. "If it had been brought to our attention we might could have done something about it a year ago."
One of the two former jailers who have already pleaded guilty to charges contained in federal informations, Travis Bradley, is charged with lying to investigators who questioned him about a series of allegedly false incident reports he wrote describing an altercation between other guards and an inmate. The second jailer, William Westmoreland, is charged with assaulting an inmate. Both are to be sentenced later this year.
A jailer placed on suspension with pay shortly after the probe began, Cpl. Gary Hale, is also considered a target of the investigation, local attorney Frank Lannom, who is representing the officer, has acknowledged.
Another target is former Sgt. Patrick Marlowe, according to numerous sources familiar with the probe. Marlowe, formerly the jail's second shift supervisor, resigned shortly after the investigation began.
Statements entered into the court record by FBI agents when Bradley and Westmoreland pleaded guilty revealed the probe has "primarily focused on the second shift at the jail" and has included "allegations of excessive force and obstruction of justice" by jailers.
Marlowe was also mentioned prominently in the FBI statements detailing the charges against both Bradley and Westmoreland. The statements indicated Marlowe, Westmoreland and other guards unlawfully beat a prisoner and that Bradley helped cover up the assault by falsifying reports and later lying to investigators when asked about the documents.
Ashe would not discuss the developments regarding McKinney in detail, citing the confidentiality of the ongoing investigation.
However he did say the probe so far is showing that inmates have a "higher degree" of Constitutional protection than the average citizen.
"The best lesson the community is learning from this investigation that I asked for is that when you're dealing with inmates, you're dealing with a higher degree of Constitutional rights. They have more protection under the Constitution than the rest of us," Ashe said.
There has been no timetable given for how much longer the investigation may continue. The federal grand jury considering evidence gathered by investigators is expected to hear testimony in the near future from the two Lebanon police officers who arrested Kuntz, though numerous sources have said neither officer is a target of the probe.