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Trouble Behind Bars is a months-long investigation into Kentucky jail deaths. We found preventable deaths that provoked little to no follow-up, as well as failures at all levels of government. Who is dying in your local county jail? Not even the state Department of Corrections has a true, accurate and updated accounting.

Former Deputy Jailers Indicted in Perry County Beating Death

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A federal grand jury has indicted two former deputy jailers in connection with the 2013 beating death of an inmate at the Kentucky River Regional Jail in Perry County, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday.

The indictment charges Damon Hickman, 38, and William Howell, 59, with fatally beating 54-year-old Larry Trent. It also accuses Hickman of trying to cover up the crime.

The indictment alleges that the two men used excessive force against Trent and then failed to provide him with necessary medical care. Hickman also faces one count of obstruction of justice for falsifying a jail log to indicate that Trent was “safe and not in obvious physical distress,” when in fact neither was true, according to the indictment.

Trent was a pretrial detainee, in jail because he couldn’t post bond on a charge of drunken driving.

Hazard police arrested him on July 5, 2013, in his car outside a Hazard doughnut shop. Trent told police he drank “about four beers and mouthwash” before driving to the store with his 10-year-old grandson. He was booked into the Kentucky River Regional Jail and beaten four days later.

Last month, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reportingexamined the state’s troubled jail system and found the state Department of Corrections’ own records characterized Trent’s death as an “altercation” and listed the cause of death as “pending.” As with numerous other jail deaths, there appeared to be little or no inquiry or follow-up by the department after Trent’s death, KyCIR found.

Within 48 hours after he died, however, then-jail administrator Tim Kilburn had completed a required report for the Department of Corrections that classified Trent’s death as a homicide. But DOC documents obtained by KyCIR give no indication that the department found anything related to Trent’s death that merited its attention.

An internal DOC memo written after Kilburn’s report said little except that Trent “became combative” and that “use of force was necessary” to subdue him. And although the accused killers served as the jail staff’s trainers, department records didn’t indicate a need for more or better training.

Hickman and Howell were indicted in state court for manslaughter two years ago. That indictment, which is still pending, accused them of killing Trent by “striking, kicking and restraining” him.

Trent's estate already has received a $2.375 million legal settlement -- one of the largest involving a Kentucky jail during the past 15 years.

The FBI conducted the federal investigation, with assistance from the Kentucky State Police.
Reporter R.G. Dunlop can be reached at rdunlop@kycir.org or (502) 814.6533.

[documentcloud url=https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2501360-hickman-damon-indictment.html format=normal sidebar=false ]

R.G. Dunlop is an award-winning investigative reporter whose work has exposed government corruption and resulted in numerous reforms. Email R.G. at rdunlop@lpm.org.