LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A 13-year-old girl peered out the window of Calvary Baptist Church the evening of Feb. 24, 2010, and saw Billy Randall Stinnett struggling with the local sheriff and several deputies. The girl would later tell the FBI she had to turn away.
"She advised that the assault continued after the handcuffs were on and that she walked away because she thought someone was being murdered," Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Judd wrote in a summary of her testimony.
The girl, along with four other teenagers, relayed their accounts of that night in Glasgow to the FBI as part of an investigation into Barren County Sheriff Christopher Brian Eaton, three deputies and a member of a regional drug task force. Eaton and the four men were indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury in Bowling Green, charged with civil rights violations, filing false reports and making false statements as part of a cover-up attempt.
Attorney J. Guthrie True of Frankfort, who represents Eaton, called the indictment "unjustified" and said the sheriff was disappointed in the decision by the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division to pursue a criminal case.
True described federal prosecutors as "headstrong" in wanting to bring a case and said Eaton will plead not guilty.
"He's ready for the fight," True told The Associated Press on Thursday about Eaton. "We don't believe the evidence is going to establish that anything happened to this defendant after he had been restrained."
Stinnett pleaded guilty in October 2010, to 47 criminal charges in the chase. He is serving 20 years in prison at Green River Correctional Complex in Central City. Stinnett's attorney in a related civil case, Laura Landenwich of Louisville, said the witness statements are a rarity in civil rights cases.
"We're so fortunate this was witnessed by some very credible witnesses," Landenwich said. "It's very rare to get caught red-handed the way these guys did."
A summary of the witness statements, Stinnett's account of the night and statements made to the FBI by Eaton and the other four men were filed in a civil suit brought by Stinnett against the sheriff in federal court in Bowling Green.
The names of the witnesses were blacked out, but their ages were included in a letter sent by Judd to Barren County Commonwealth Attorney Karen Davis.
Stinnett initially sued Eaton and the sheriff's office Feb. 22, 201, and did so without the help of an attorney. In court filings, Stinnett gives his account of what happened after the chase that cut through Hart and Barren counties and ended when he crashed into a church in Glasgow, about 100 miles south of Louisville.
Stinnett said he tried to surrender after crashing the van, which sheriff's deputies said contained a mobile methamphetamine lab. Stinnett said he dropped to the ground and put his hands behind his head, then Eaton took out a metal club and "struck me with it several times like it was a baseball bat."
Stinnett wrote that Eaton hit him repeatedly in the head, arm, back and on the back of his legs. Eaton and other officers "continued to hit, kick, stomp and spit on me brutally for what seemed like three or four minutes."
Stinnett, now 30, also alluded to prior run-ins with Eaton.
"I saw murderous intentions in his eyes the night before he struck me," Stinnett wrote. "I have had nightmare dreams and painful migraines where they hit my head."
The accounts of the five teenagers are all similar — that Stinnett was on his back with his hands under his body while law enforcement officers delivered "soccer style" kicks and held "batons over his head like a baseball bat." The teens told the FBI the officers ended the attack after about 30 to 45 seconds to talk on their police radios.
"Then for two additional minutes the officers returned and attacked Stinnett," Judd wrote. "... Stinnett did not pose a threat to the officers or try to cause harm to the officials."
A 14-year-old girl told the FBI that she later saw a pool of blood and splatter.
Landenwich said Stinnett said in the lawsuit that doctors put 10 staples in his head to close an injury after the beating. A grainy photocopy of a booking photo attached to the civil suit shows Stinnett's head with the staples.
Eaton prepared a report for the FBI in which he said Stinnett had a knife and confronted the sheriff in "an aggressive manner," Judd wrote. Eaton told agents he struck Stinnett with his Asp baton three times and that three others aided in subduing Stinnett.
Eaton later told the FBI in an interview that he believed Stinnett had a .22-caliber pistol in his right hand and would not drop it on command, Judd wrote. Eaton then said he struck Stinnett three times with his baton before three deputies subdued Stinnett. Eaton denied that anyone struck Stinnett while he was handcuffed, Judd wrote.
Three other deputies made similar statements to the FBI — some force was used to subdue Stinnett, but nothing after he was handcuffed. A fourth officer told the FBI he arrived at the scene after Stinnett was in the back of a deputy's car.Comment on this story
True said Eaton and the deputies have given consistent accounts of Stinnett's arrest.
"Once he was subdued, nothing happened to this defendant," True said.
Landenwich said Stinnett remains hopeful that either the civil suit or FBI investigation will have a positive outcome.
"These cases are so hard to prove," said Landenwich. "He has cooperated with the investigation."