Outside counsel tapped to represent jailers in videotaped beating (Courtesy of Knoxnews.com)

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The Knox County Law Director’s Office is parting legal ways with a group of law enforcers accused in a videotaped beating of a mentally ill inmate.

Former county deputy law director John Owings, who is now in private practice, filed notice Monday his firm will represent four of the five current and former Knox County Sheriff’s Office deputies accused in a $5 million civil-rights lawsuit of excessive force in the videotaped beating of Louis Flack in November 2014.

Taxpayers will cover the defense bill — for now, at least.

The fifth, Nicholas Breeden, has hired attorney Joshua Hedrick, who also represents Breeden in an official oppression and assault case filed against Breeden in June as a result of the incident. Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones fired Breeden three months after the agency’s video showed Breeden repeatedly punching Flack. Jones did so only after WBIR-TV sought the video.

Hedrick late last week filed a motion in the U.S. District Court lawsuit to put the brakes on that case until Breeden’s April trial in Knox County Criminal Court is over. In the motion, Hedrick invokes Breeden’s right against self-incrimination.

The law director’s decision to hire outside counsel for the remaining officers captured on the video is rare under Law Director Richard “Bud” Armstrong, who has repeatedly said such a move in civil cases is often unnecessary and expensive. Outside counsel is typically employed when county bosses intend to distance themselves — and taxpayers — from their employees’ actions.

Attorney Lance Baker, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Flack, contends Flack’s history of mental illness was apparent to staff at the Roger D. Wilson Detention Facility on Maloneyville Road in Northeast Knox County. Flack was clad in a lime green jumpsuit the sheriff has said is intended to alert jailers of an inmate’s mental illness and the need to consider that in their responses.

Baker on Tuesday released more video from the November 2014 incident. That video was filmed by KCSO staffers but provides close-up images and clearer audio than that released by Jones last January. The video indicates Flack is in the throes of a psychotic episode, as he tells jailers, “I have an execution tomorrow.”

The incident began when Flack would not place his hands into an opening in his cell door so jailers could handcuff him in preparation for a move from his cell. KCSO Cpl. David Sparkes, who narrates the video, issues an order of “Extract, extract!” as a team of officers storms inside and pushes Flack against the wall and to the floor. Flack is quickly placed facedown and his legs are bent backward. One jailer uses an expletive to refer to Flack.

The video shows Breeden repeatedly punching Flack while Flack is immobilized. Jailer Christopher Fustos is seen kneeing Flack nearly a dozen times, with at least two blows placed in Flack’s ribs after he is handcuffed and hogtied. Jones suspended Fustos and Sparkes for two and five days, respectively, after the incident. Deputy Jesse Rudd resigned amid the probe.

Flack’s face is bloody and his eye swollen shut after the beating. His blood is smeared across the floor, and the jailers can be heard complaining about having his blood on them. Sparkes can be heard on the video telling Flack the beating was his own fault.

“Sir, all you had to do was go ahead and comply,” Sparkes said. “You wanted to do it the hard way. You got what you wanted, Mr. Flack.”

Later, while Flack is being treated by a nurse, Sparkes says on the video, “Don’t move your head. I feel you moving your head.” The video shows no movement of Flack’s head. At that point in the video, Sparkes is gripping Flack’s hair and pulling it upward.

Flack’s lawsuit also alleges he was assaulted days earlier during a psychotic episode in which Flack was stunned three times, struck by a blow to the head that cut his skin and then locked into a restraint chair. In neither instance, the lawsuit alleged, did staffers seek mandated intervention and follow-up for mentally ill inmates. Jailer Randall R. Kidd is named in the lawsuit in that incident.

The county has been under a federal injunction regarding use of the restraint chair since the mid-1990s. The order specifically bars the chair’s use as punishment and tightly restricts how long it can be used on inmates, who must receive constant monitoring by video and medical personnel.

New video shows beating of Knox County inmate Louis Flack more clearly (Courtesy of Wate.com)

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Newly obtained video shows more detail of the beating of a Knox County inmate that resulted in a lawsuit and cost two jailers their jobs.

The video and audio show inmate Louis Flack, 52, being subdued at the Knox County Detention Facility on November 28, 2014.

“If they’re doing that type of behavior on the video, what are they doing when the cameras aren’t rolling?” asked Flack’s attorney Lance Baker.

He also just received the recording, taken from a correction officer’s handheld recorder.

Related story: $5 million lawsuit filed in Knox County inmate beating case

“What’s telling is Mr. Flack, for the most part, was defenseless. He was face down. He’s hogtied on a concrete floor and is being assaulted over and over again, almost wallowing in his own blood.”

Louis Flack (source: KCSO)
Baker says Flack suffers from mental illness and the detention officers knew it. It’s why he says Flack is wearing a lime green jumpsuit. Baker now worries about others with mental illness who are arrested by the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.

flack-louis3-e1424728118227“The one question you have to ask after viewing this video is how can you not fear for their safety inside that detention facility?” he said.

This “use of force” incident led to an internal affairs invesitgation and the firing, resignation and suspension of the officers involved.

One officer resigned during the investigation while two others were placed on administrative leave without pay.

Officer Nicholas Breeden was later fired following an investigation. His trial is scheduled to begin in April.

A lawsuit has also been filed against the sheriff’s office and the detention officers involved.

Video provides more insight into 2014 KCSO inmate beating (Courtesy of WBIR.com)

Still0118_00000_1453142405391_58206_ver1.0(KNOXVILLE) Knox County jailers continued to kick a mentally ill inmate who was at the center of a 2014 jail beating well after they had cuffed him, placed him into a hog-tied position and rendered him defenseless, according to a never before made public video obtained by WBIR 10News.

The 24-minute recording, which county authorities have declined to make public, provides new details and more insight into the November 2014 incident that ended up costing two jailers their jobs and led to a federal lawsuit against the county, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office and the employees involved.

The recording also contradicts statements made by the officers in the weeks following the attack.

The video, taken from a correction officer’s handheld recorder, shows correction officers punching, kicking and kneeing 54-year-old Louis Flack in a holding area after they tackled and wrestled him to the ground. In it, one officer can be overheard referring to Flack as a “little (expletive)” and another telling the then-inmate: “You got what you wanted, Mr. Flack.”

The video also shows officers walking Flack to a small medical room where a nurse – who evaluates him – tells Flack “don’t move or I’m done.”

The video, obtained Sunday, is more telling than one released a year ago by the Sheriff’s Office after WBIR began investigating.

“These officers clearly knew their actions and words were being videotaped, but they still engaged in the brutal beating of my client, Mr. Flack, someone who is clearly mentally ill,’ said Flack’s attorney, Lance Baker. “They were punching him, kicking him, even kneeing him repeatedly while he is  . . . face down on the floor almost wallowing in his own blood. In my opinion, generally, when you’re being videotaped you’re a little bit more careful of what you do and what you say. Let’s take it for what it is: When the cameras aren’t rolling, what are these officers doing and saying at that point?”

The Knox County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to a request for comment on Monday. Authorities in the past have declined to comment, which is protocol for the department when a lawsuit is filed.

Flack was in custody at the Roger D. Wilson Detention Facility on Maloneyville Road in November 2014. Authorities initially arrested him for burglary and aggravated assault.

Charges later were dropped.

On the afternoon of Nov. 28, correction officers were trying to transport him to a different holding cell, but Flack – who was locked in his cell – refused to stick his hands through a sliding panel in the door so that officers could cuff him.

The guards, in order to extract Flack from the cell, rushed in and beat him, an investigation showed.

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Several KCSO correction officers continued to strike former inmate Louis Flack even after he was restrained.

WBIR began investigating the matter several weeks later. The sherriff’s office at the time declined to release videos that 10News requested under the state’s open records act, citing a pending investigation.

In late January 2015, however, the Sheriff’s Office posted about nine minutes of video on the department’s website. The tape was taken from the stationary security cam mounted on the wall outside the tiny room where Flack was kept.

That previously released video showed five men storming the cell with two more watching from the door’s threshold. As Flack appeared to take a swing at one of them, the officers tackled him to the ground, and at least four started throwing punches.

However, an officer videotaping the fight with a handheld camera blocked much of the struggle.

The video, somewhat grainy, also did not include audio.

Two months after the beating, Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones fired jail employee Nick Breeden and suspended Cpl. David Sparkes and Chris Fustos without pay after reviewing the camera footage.

Sparkes was the supervisor on duty at the time of the Nov. 28 incident.

An internal review found the men used “techniques that violated policy” and use-of-force options taught by the department.

Jail employee Jesse Rudd also resigned amid the probe.

Breeden was later charged with official oppression and assault in connection with the beating.

The charges against Flack were eventually dropped and in November 2015 his attorney filed a $5 million lawsuit in U.S. District Court that accused the county, the sheriff’s office and six employees of violating Flack’s civil rights, using excessive force against him, inflicting emotional distress and violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

NEW RECORDING, NEW DETAILS

The newly obtained video from the handheld camera opens with Sparkes, the officers’ supervisor, stating that officers asked Flack “numerous” times to stick his hands through a sliding panel so they could cuff him. Sparkes says they are going to give Flack one more chance before entering the cell.

When Flack refuses, the guards open the door and charge, taking him quickly to the ground. Breeden immediately strikes Flack repeatedly on the head and body as Fustos knees him. Seconds after he’s face-down on the floor, one officer begins yelling“Give me your hands!” as the two men continue hitting Flack.

Flack, who cannot move, begs: “Don’t kill me.”

The officers quickly handcuff Flack and twist his legs behind him so that they are in a reverse yoga position. While on his stomach, Flack tells one of the officers that he has to visit his doctor because he’s scheduled for “execution.”

Breeden then kicks Flack in the face.

“They say in the video that he’s resisting,” Baker said. “I don’t think you can resist anything at that point. And he still almost treats him like a piece of garbage, and kicks him right in the face with a steel-toed boot.”

The officers then walk Flack to a nursing station, leaving behind a blood-smeared floor in the cell. Breeden tells Flack that he “got what you wanted.”

The officers also threaten Flack with a “spit mask” if he doesn’t keep his head down while they walk him down a hallway.

A nurse, as she wipes the blood from his face, tells the former inmate: “Don’t move or I’m done.”

Nicholas Jeremiah Breeden

Former knox County correction officer Nick Breeden faces charges in connection with the November 2014 beating of former inmate Louis Flack.

Roughly halfway through the 24-minute recording, one officer questions “why Flack needs to go to a hospital.” Another tells him it’s “because of injuries to his head.”

An officer also can be heard saying that he took his own “Breeden elbow to the chin.”

Toward the end of the video, the nurse returns and asks the officers if they’re cut or injured. They tell her no.

“I just want to make sure there’s no exposure considering the considerable amount of blood everywhere,” she says.

The video concludes with Flack sitting in a chair, his head down and his hands and legs in shackles.

Breeden’s attorney, Joshua Hedrick, did not return a call seeking comment on Monday.

“Although the video depicts atrocious, cruel and inhumane treatment by Knox County correction officers, I can say I’m glad the video has finally surfaced after a year and a half of requests that have gone unanswered,” Baker said. “The video does support the claim that Mr. Flack was assaulted by Knox County officers . . . during his incarceration.”

VIDEO CONTRADICTS OFFICER STATEMENTS

In the weeks that followed the beating, the officers involved filed reports with the sheriff’s office about what happened.

Their statements, however, don’t match up with what can be seen on the recording.

Breeden said he “placed Flack on the ground” and delivered “multiple strikes” to his face and mid-section because he was “very combative towards officers,” and “attempted to strike me numerous times,” according to an incident report form he filed Dec. 11.

The video shows Flack wildly swinging only once at the group before he is taken down.

Rudd, who resigned during the investigation, reported a similar story.

He said that a number of officers entered Flack’s cell when he refused to cooperate. At that point, he said Flack hit him on his face.

The video does not show Flack hitting anyone.

“Inmate Flack was placed on the ground and in self-defense I delivered multiple strikes to the (inmate’s) facial area,” Rudd wrote in a Dec. 4 incident report.

Sparkes, who was suspended for five days, told investigators that after Flack refused to cooperate and before the fight broke out, he requested other officers to bring a video camera to the cell.

According to the corporal’s Dec. 11 report, Flack “stood in the cell with an aggressive stance,” and that he “resisted from the very beginning . . . by striking at officers, biting and kicking . . . .”

None of what Sparkes stated can be seen on the video.

Officer Fustos, who was suspended for two days without pay, said he delivered “multiple closed fist” to Flack’s face “in an attempt to stop his attack, but he was still resisting,” his Nov. 29 report states. He also said he “did deliver a knee strike to (Flack’s) right buttock area.”

Fustos also can be seen kneeing Flack in the back and kneeing him after he’s secured.

Fustos said he wouldn’t charge Flack “with any disciplinary actions due to his mental state.”

Baker said at this point Flack is “doing OK” and has been seeing two primary care physicians but he’s “still suffering from being incarcerated.”

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