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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 Regional Jail Supervisor Sentenced To Prison For Fatally Beating Inmate

wired fence with barbed wires
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wired fence with barbed wires

A former supervisor at the Kentucky River Regional Jail in Perry County was sentenced this week to 10 ½ years in federal prison for his role in the fatal 2013 beating of an inmate.

Damon Wayne Hickman, 40, and another deputy jailer used excessive, fatal force in an unprovoked attack on Larry Trent. Hickman also tried to cover up his crime by creating a fake medical log.

U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell issued Hickman’s sentence Wednesday, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Hickman pleaded guilty last November. Another deputy jailer, William Curtis Howell, 60, was also convicted in Trent’s death. He is slated to be sentenced next month.

A 2015 KyCIR investigation featured Trent’s death and revealed myriad problems in jails across the state, including preventable inmate deaths, inadequate or nonexistent health care and oversight failures at all levels of government.

Two years after the fatal beating, the state Department of Corrections’ own records characterized Trent’s death as an “altercation” and 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.

According to a DOJ news release:
The assault started when Howell and Hickman opened the door to Trent’s cell to remove a sleeping-mat, and Trent ran out of the cell. Howell tased Trent, and after Trent was brought to the floor, Hickman, without justification, violently kicked Trent in the ribs. Hickman and Howell continued their assault after Trent was carried back to the area outside of his cell. Both deputies, without justification, punched, kicked, and stomped on Trent. Witnesses further testified that, before closing the cell door, Howell stepped into Trent’s cell and kicked Trent in the head while Trent was on the floor and posing no threat. After the assault, Hickman and Howell had other inmates clean up Trent’s blood from the floor and walls outside of his cell.
Hickman and Howell failed to give medical attention to Trent because they didn’t want to get in trouble. Another jailer found Trent’s body about four hours later.

KyCIR's investigation found warning signs around Hickman. Supervisors reprimanded him for abusing an inmate just months after he started his deputy jailer job. Shortly later, he was fired for wrongly releasing an inmate. Nonetheless, jail officials rehired Hickman as a maintenance man. He later worked his way back into a deputy jailer position, despite his earlier termination.

The Kentucky River Regional Jail’s insurance carrier eventually paid $2.375 million to settle a civil suit stemming from Trent’s death.

From 2000-2015, the regional jail in Perry County ranked third in total dollar settlements among 21 jails of similar size in the state, according to data obtained by KyCIR.

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