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.