Case in hands of jury
CINCINNATI — A jury of 12 began deliberations today to decide whether three former Lawrence County corrections officers abused their powers by mistreating an inmate or were justified in attempting to subdue a dangerous and noncompliant suspect.
Counsel for the government and all three defendants gave closing arguments on Tuesday in U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio in Cincinnati following the previous week’s testimony in the trial of Jeremy S. Hanshaw, Ronald Scott Hatfield and Jason D. Mays.
The three former corrections officers were investigated by the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office and subsequently the FBI after surveillance footage came to light that the government says shows the men used excessive force on Larry Kinstler in August of last year. Kinstler was brought to the jail on a disorderly conduct charge after having been arrested by the Ironton Police Department at Rally on the River.
“This case is about abuse of power,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily Glatfelter. “They used force without justification and covered up evidence of their conduct.”
Throughout the trial, the government showed the surveillance footage and still images from inside the jail booking area, which showed the officers’ interaction with Kinstler.
According to Glatfelter, the law permits law enforcement officers to use only the amount of force that is necessary to gain compliance of a suspect.
“The question is whether these three defendants crossed the line,” she said. “When you consider the evidence, the answer is yes.”
All three men are charged with conspiracy against rights and deprivation against rights under the color of the law and aiding and abetting. The indictment alleged the three men “willfully combined, conspired and agreed with one another to injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate (Kinstler) … in the right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by one acting under the color of law.”
Hatfield and Mays were charged with knowingly covering up evidence by attempting to block the view of a security camera while Hanshaw was charged with falsifying a use of force report and an incident report.
In addition to the video evidence, Glatfelter asked the jury to consider the fact that two eyewitnesses were troubled by the incident.
“Two people saw what was going on, observed a portion of it, they were so upset about what they saw, they left the room,” Glatfelter said.
The two witnesses, who testified last week, were Dawn Easterling, a dispatcher at the jail, and Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Josh Craft.
During closing arguments for the defense, Mark Collins for Hanshaw, Joshua Engel for Hatfield and David Thomas for Mays, all called into question Easterling’s and Craft’s credibility.
Collins said Easterling is not a trained law enforcement officer and said she didn’t do her job properly by not informing the officers that an intoxicated suspect was being brought into the jail.
Engel said Craft didn’t step in to stop the incident or file a report.
“That speaks volumes of what he really thinks,” Engel said.
Glatfelter also called into question that some of the defendants’ reasons for using force on Kinstler were heard for the first time during the trial and not in any reports of the incident, such has Hanshaw claiming Kinstler was trying to grab his belt, Hanshaw and Hatfield’s claim that Kinstler was spitting and blowing his nose on the deputies and Hanshaw’s claim that Kinstler attempted to use a pen as a weapon when he was asked to sign his bond form.
“If the pen is so dangerous, why not grab it from him? It wasn’t about the pen,” Glatfelter said. “It was because they were mad he wouldn’t sign the form. When did they take the pen? After he signed the form.”
During his closing argument, Collins told the jury they must view the evidence with the eyes of a reasonable corrections officer and said the government did not prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Collins said Hanshaw did nothing to falsify his incident and use of force reports.
“He did everything he was supposed to do,” Collins said. “… There is nothing false in there in any shape or form.”
Collins also told the jury that the officers didn’t have the benefit of hindsight when reacting to an intoxicated suspect in the booking area.
“Life comes at you fast,” he said. “When you’re a law enforcement officer dealing with intoxicated suspects, life comes at you real fast. If you wait, you will be hit. And the law says you don’t have to wait.
He also called into question Kinstler’s own testimony that he couldn’t remember much of the incident, calling it “crap.”
“He’s spitting and snotting. Each defendant testified to that,” he said. “But don’t take their word for it. Let’s listen to Larry Kinstler.”
Engel told the jury that no one disputed the two opinion witnesses’ testimony that officers’ use of force was in compliance with national and state standards. He also said no other testimony contradicted what Hanshaw and Hatfield testified to.
“They were doing what they were trained to do,” he said.
He also said there was “strong evidence” in the video that the officers’ use of force was not due to anger or punishment, saying they paused at multiple opportunities to allow for Kinstler to comply with orders.
Thomas told the jury that Mays’ involvement in the incident was shown in two portions of the video — when the government says he intentionally blocked the camera view and when he struck Kinstler while he was on a medical gurney.
Thomas played part of the video for the jury showing what he says is Mays guarding a doorway.
“That’s not concealment of anything,” he said.
As for Mays striking Kinstler on the jaw area, he said there was no unreasonable force, saying there was no documented injury to that area of his body.
“There is nothing in the area where the government wants you to believe Mays used unreasonable force.”
The jury was handed the case just before 4 p.m. on Tuesday. United States District Judge Timothy S. Black asked that the jury chose a foreperson and be dismissed for the evening.
The jury was expected to start deliberations at 9 a.m. this morning.