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Jail guards who beat inmate headed to prison

The Examiner staff

Four former Jackson County corrections officers who beat an inmate so badly that he suffered broken ribs and a punctured lung are going to federal prison.

The incident happened five years ago at the Jackson County Detention Center in downtown Kansas City. Federal officials say the four guards took the inmate to a place outside the view of surveillance cameras and assaulted him, also leaving him with bruises to the face and injuries to his wrists.

The four are:

• Travis Hewitt, 30, of Kansas City, sentenced to three years, nine months in prison. Last October a federal jury convicted Hewitt, an acting sergeant at the jail, of conspiracy to deprive the victim of his civil rights and one count of deprivation of rights.

• Terrance Dooley, 39, of Kansas City, sentenced to three years. The jury also convicted Dooley, a member of the jail’s Correctional Emergency Response Team, on the same charges – conspiracy to deprive the victim of his civil rights and one count of deprivation of rights.

• Jen-I Pulos, 34, of Kansas City, sentenced to two and a half years. Pulos, an acting sergeant, pleaded guilty to deprivation of rights a week before the trial last fall.

• Dakota Pearce, 27, of Kansas City, sentenced to two years. Pearce, part of the CERT unit, pleaded guilty last fall to his role in the conspiracy.

All were sentenced – two on Monday, two on Thursday – by U.S. District Court Judge Gary A. Fenner.

In the weeks following the July 4, 2015 attack, then Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders announced an FBI investigation into the jail and named his own task force to look into jail operations. The task force and another one coming later raised many concerns about how the jail is designed, staffed, resourced and run, all feeding into the county’s current plans for a new jail, though the location, cost and start of construction haven’t yet been worked out.

The office of the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri says this is what happening inside the jail:

An inmate, identified as J.R., was picked up on a parole violation and placed in the jail’s medical housing unit because, suffering severe alcohol withdrawal, he was severely confused and disoriented.

That evening a guard allowed J.R. to walk in a secure area outside his cell and – still “clearly disoriented” – he tried to leave that area. He and a guard got into a physical struggle, and she called a Code 1, summoning other officers.

Hewitt and Peace put J.R. in a holding cell. Both of them as well as Pulos and Dooley were upset that a supervisor chose not to put J.R. in a “restraint chair” because he remained disoriented and unaware of his surroundings.

Hours later, Dolley and Pulos went into J.R.’s cell “purportedly to remove a comb that had been fashioned into a “shank.” They took him to a holding cell out of view of surveillance cameras to punish him for the incident earlier. All four correctional officers assaulted him while he was handcuffed. At times, one officer would stand as a lookout to make sure there were no witnesses.

J.R.’s injuries came to light when medical officials, thinking his alcohol withdrawal had worsened, sent him to the ER at Truman Medical Centers.

J.R. later sued the county, settled out of court for more than $400,000.

“Nobody is above the law,” U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison of the Western District of Missouri said in a new release Thursday. “These former corrections officers abused their authority and violated the civil rights of an inmate by physically assaulting him while he was restrained and not posing any threat. As the prosecution of these former officers demonstrates, the Constitution equally protects the rights of all citizens, and equally upholds the accountability of all citizens.”