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Press Release

Former Deputy Jailer at Kentucky River Regional Jail Convicted of Federal Charges Related to the Death of a Detainee

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

A jury has convicted a former deputy jailer in eastern Kentucky for his role in violently assaulting a pre-trial detainee and willfully failing to provide necessary medical attention that led to his death. 

Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Carlton S. Shier, IV, for the Eastern District of Kentucky, Special Agent in Charge Amy Hess of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Commissioner Richard W. Sanders of the Kentucky State Police jointly made the announcement.

William Curtis Howell was convicted of using excessive force against the detainee, resulting in bodily injury, and of deliberately ignoring the detainee’s serious medical needs, also resulting in bodily injury.  The jury returned the verdict after 90 minutes of deliberation, following four days of trial.

According to the evidence presented at trial, on July 9, 2013, at the Kentucky River Regional Jail in Hazard, Kentucky, Howell and another supervisory deputy jailer, Damon Wayne Hickman, violently beat Larry Trent, 54, a pretrial detainee, and left him in his cell, seriously injured and bleeding from an open head wound.  Trent ultimately died from injuries sustained during the beating.  Trent was in custody for a DUI charge.  Supervisory Deputy Jailer Hickman, who was initially charged along with defendant Howell, pleaded guilty prior to trial and testified against Howell.

According to evidence, the assault started when Howell and Hickman opened the door to Trent’s cell to remove a sleeping-mat, and Trent ran out of the cell.  Howell tased Trent and after Trent was brought to the floor, Hickman, without justification, violently kicked Trent in the ribs. While deputies carried Trent back to his cell, Trent took the taser from the deputy jailers.  Witnesses testified that after deputies retrieved the taser from Trent and while Trent was restrained on the floor by deputy jailers, Howell and Hickman, without justification, punched, kicked, and stomped on Trent.  Witnesses further testified that, before closing the cell door, Howell stepped into Trent’s cell and kicked Trent in the head while Trent was on the floor and posing no threat.  Further testimony was presented that, after the assault, Trent’s blood was in the detox hallway, booking area and on the deputies involved.

Testimony further revealed that Trent was lying motionless in his cell, with blood all over his face.  However, Howell and Hickman willfully failed to provide medical attention, because they did not want to get in trouble.  Approximately four hours after the beating, another employee at the jail noticed Trent’s lifeless body and emergency personnel were called. Trent was pronounced dead at a local hospital that afternoon. 

According to autopsy results presented at trial, Trent died of a fracture to his pelvis that caused hemorrhaging and from blunt force trauma to his head, torso and extremities. 

The Kentucky River Regional Jail houses pre-trial detainees from Perry and Knott Counties.  As a supervisory deputy jailer, Howell was responsible for the custody, care, safety and control of the inmates at the jail.

Hickman pleaded guilty last year for his role in the beating.  Another assault took place at the same jail in 2012.  In April of this year, Kevin Asher, the deputy jailer involved in that assault, was convicted of deprivation of civil rights under color of law, and obstruction of justice resulting in bodily injury. 

Sentencing for Howell is scheduled for Aug. 16, 2017, in London, Kentucky.  Excessive use of force resulting in bodily injury carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment, and deliberate indifference resulting in bodily injury carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.  The U.S. District Court will consider the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statutory penalties before imposing sentence.

The investigation was conducted by the Kentucky State Police and the FBI.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Hydee Hawkins of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Kentucky and Trial Attorney Sanjay Patel of the Civil Rights Division prosecuted this case on behalf of the federal government.

Updated May 12, 2017

Civil Rights
Press Release Number: 17-527