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Four former Jackson Co. Detention Ctr. officers charged with assaulting inmate

Credit: Hans Neleman

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Four former corrections officers at the Jackson County Detention Center have been indicted by a federal grand jury for their roles in a conspiracy to physically assault an inmate in violation of his Constitutional protection against unreasonable force.

Travis Hewitt, 27, Dakota Pearce, 24, Terrance Dooley, Jr., 36, and Jen-I Pulos, 36, all of Kansas City, Mo., were charged in a four-count indictment returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Kansas City, Mo., on Wednesday, April 19, 2017. The indictment was unsealed and made public Friday upon the arrests and initial court appearances of Hewitt and Pulos.

“The Constitution provides every citizen the right of due process, and protects every citizen from the use of unreasonable force,” Larson said. “Correctional officers who physically assault a shackled inmate in violation of his civil rights will be held accountable for their actions.”

According to the indictment, Hewitt and Pearce served as acting sergeants at the the detention center. Dooley and Pulos served as members of the Disturbance Control Team, also known as the Cell Extraction Response Team, which is responsible for intervening in inmate altercations and neutralizing threats posed by inmates.

The indictment charges in Counts One and Two that on July 4, 2015, Hewitt, Pearce, Dooley and Pulos conspired to and did assault “J.R.,” an inmate awaiting resolution of allegations that he violated probation, in retaliation for a prior altercation that J.R. had with another corrections officer. According to the indictment, the defendants, defying the orders of a superior officer, forcibly removed J.R. from his cell in the Medical Housing Unit and brought him to another holding cell down the hall in order to facilitate their assault on him. There, as the indictment charges, all four defendants struck, punched and otherwise assaulted J.R., who was handcuffed, shackled, confined to a cell, suffering from disorientation and confusion, and not posing a threat to anyone. The indictment further alleges that the defendants ensured their actions would go undetected by having one of them serve as a lookout, and by sending other nearby corrections officers to another part of the JCDC so those corrections officers would not witness the assault.

“The FBI is charged with investigating any violation of an individual’s civil rights, no matter where that violation may occur,” said Special Agent in Charge Darrin E. Jones of the FBI Kansas City Division. “Correctional officers are entrusted with the power and needed authority to protect our community, but they do not have the right to abuse that authority. The FBI will continue to work aggressively to pursue any and all allegations of civil rights violations.”

In addition to the conspiracy and the assault in the holding cell, Count Three charges Hewitt and Pearce with a separate assault on J.R., when they allegedly struck and punched J.R. while J.R. was restrained and not posing a physical threat to anyone. Related to that assault, Count Four charges Hewitt with falsifying his departmental report with the intent to impede or obstruct the federal investigation. The indictment alleges that Hewitt falsely wrote that J.R. bit his right hand, when in fact, Hewitt knew that he injured his hand by striking and punching J.R. about the head and face while J.R. was restrained and not posing a physical threat to anyone.

Larson cautioned that the charges contained in this indictment are simply accusations, and not evidence of guilt.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney David Ketchmark of the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Missouri, and Special Litigation Counsel Fara Gold of the Civil Rights Division, Criminal Section, U.S. Department of Justice. It was investigated by the Kansas City Division of the FBI.

Jackson County provided this statement:

Jackson County is committed to providing a safe and secure corrections facility for inmates and staff.  That is why, in the summer of 2015, the Department of Corrections contacted law enforcement authorities after they became aware of the incidents that led to today’s charges against four former jail staff members. 

“I would like to personally thank and commend the men and women of the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the United States Attorney’s Office for their tireless and professional work.  We will continue to assist our federal authority in this matter and are confident that those responsible will be held accountable.”  Jackson County Executive Frank White, Jr.

-Information from news release issued by Tom Larson, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, and Tom Wheeler, Acting Assistant Attorney for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice