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Jailers found not guilty

CINCINNATI — About 30 minutes before the verdicts were read, the judge presiding over a federal trial involving three former Lawrence County corrections officers informed the court that some jurors were crying, having not reached a decision on one charge concerning one defendant.

A short time later, there were tears in the eyes of many in the courtroom who came to support those officers —Jeremy S. Hanshaw, Ronald S. Hatfield and Jason D. Mays. That’s because the jury returned not guilty verdicts on all counts for each jailer.

The decision in the use of force case was reached around 4:30 p.m. Friday, after three full days of deliberation in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio in Cincinnati.

United States District Judge Timothy S. Black ordered everyone in the courtroom to receive the verdicts “quietly and without expression,” or be held in contempt of court.

After the verdicts were read, Black expressed his gratitude to the 12 jurors.

“Thank you for your work on behalf of the community,” Black said. “I see that this was hard. I see some tears. … You have returned a fair and just verdict.”

For three days, the jurors deliberated on the fates of the jailers, who had been charged with conspiracy against rights and deprivation against rights under the color of the law and aiding and abetting. Hatfield and Mays had been charged with knowingly covering up evidence, while Hanshaw was charged with falsifying a use of force report and an incident report.

This followed more than a week of testimony from investigators, eyewitnesses, opinion witnesses and Hatfield and Hanshaw themselves.

The crux of the trial was whether the three jailers used too much force on Larry Kinstler, a man who was brought to the jail on a disorderly conduct charge after having been arrested in August of 2014 by the Ironton Police Department at Rally on the River.

Friday afternoon the jury informed the court they had unanimous verdicts on all but one charge for one defendant and asked how to proceed. The specific charge and the defendant were not made known to the court.

Black ordered the jury to continue deliberating. Around 4 p.m. the jury was given the option to return partial verdicts if they had not made a final decision, but returned instead with not guilty verdicts on all counts.

Once the jury had been dismissed, Black spoke directly to Hanshaw, Hatfield and Mays.

“The jury has spoken,” he said. “But I hope this exercise was a valuable one. You are free to go. Godspeed.”

The three men were arrested in 2014 following an investigation by Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office detectives. Mays was fired and Hatfield and Hanshaw were placed on administrative leave. At the time, Hatfield and Hanshaw were charged with felonious assault and Mays with tampering with evidence. In January, a federal grand jury indicted the men, moving the case to U.S. District Court.

Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless had this to say following the outcome of the trial:

“From the onset of this situation, I was disturbed with what I viewed. I took an oath to uphold the law regardless of who the accused are. I took swift action and presented this case to the prosecutor who filed criminal charges.

“The man I am will not allow me to look the other way, I will stand up and uphold the law. The jury’s decision will not discourage me from doing the right thing in the future.”

While the criminal trial has been resolved there is still a civil case pending.

Kinstler filed the lawsuit in February in U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio, against Lawless, chief deputy Jeff Hitchcock and Hanshaw, Mays and Hatfield.

Kinstler is seeking “actual damages sustained as a result of defendants’ conduct, as well as punitive damages to punish defendants’ conduct and forever deter its repetition,” according to the filing.

A jury trial is tentatively set for December 2016, according to court records.