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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Kentucky

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Former Supervisory Deputy Jailer at Kentucky River Regional Jail Sentenced to Over 10 Years Imprisonment for Charges Related to the Death of A Detainee and Obstruction of Justice

WASHINGTON – Justice Department announced today that a former supervisory deputy jailer at the Kentucky River Regional Jail (KRRJ), Perry County, Kentucky, has been sentenced to 126 months in federal prison related to his role in an unprovoked violent assault of a detainee.


United States District Judge Karen K. Caldwell formally sentenced Damon Wayne Hickman, 40, on his conviction.  Under federal law, Hickman must serve 85 percent of his prison sentence.  Following the completion of his prison term, he will be under the supervision of the United States Probation Office for three years.


On Nov. 9, 2016, Hickman entered a guilty plea to using excessive force against the detainee, resulting in bodily injury, and to deliberately ignoring the detainee’s serious medical needs, also resulting in bodily injury, and obstruction of justice.  On May 11, 2017, William Curtis Howell, 60, was convicted of the same offenses after a jury trial, and he is scheduled to be sentenced in United States District Court on Dec. 19, 2017.  Hickman was also convicted of obstruction of justice for creating a fake medical log to cover up his and Howell’s misconduct.


According to evidence and testimony presented during Hickman’s pretrial hearings and Howell’s jury trial, on July 9, 2013, at the Kentucky River Regional Jail in Hazard, Kentucky, Hickman and Howell 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.  Hickman, who was initially charged along with Howell, pleaded guilty prior to trial and testified against Howell.


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.  Hickman and Howell continued their assault after Trent was carried back to the area outside of his cell.  Both deputies, 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.  After the assault, Hickman and Howell had other inmates clean up Trent’s blood from the floor and walls outside of his cell.


The evidence further revealed that Trent was lying motionless in his cell with blood all over his face.  However, Hickman and Howell 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 discovered Trent’s lifeless body.  Paramedics were summoned and Trent was transported to a local hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.


“Corrections officers throughout the country carry out their duties in a responsible manner on a daily basis,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore. “Attacks like this one dishonor those responsible corrections officers and is a violation of civil rights, and the Department of Justice will prosecute such misconduct.”


“The criminal conduct in this case was a disgraceful breach of public trust, a grave disservice to truly dedicated law enforcement personnel, and an appalling violation of a man’s civil rights,” said Acting U. S. Attorney Carlton Shier.  “Holding law enforcement officials accountable for violations of the public trust we place in them is absolutely critical to making our communities safer.”


Autopsy results presented at trial showed that Trent died from internal bleeding caused by a displaced pelvic fracture, and from blunt force trauma to his head, torso, and extremities.


According to evidence presented at pretrial hearings for Hickman and at an unrelated jury trial of another KRRJ supervisory deputy jailer, Kevin Asher, Hickman and Asher assaulted another pre-trial detainee at the same jail in 2012.  On Oct. 19, 2017, Asher was sentenced to 108 months imprisonment for his involvement in that unrelated inmate assault.


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


Carlton S. Shier, IV, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky; John M. Gore, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division; and Amy Hess, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, jointly made the announcement. 


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

Civil Rights
Updated November 9, 2017