The family of a Black prisoner who was beaten by corrections officers while he was handcuffed in Kentucky last year welcomed the news this week that they were finally being charged criminally.
A federal grand jury on Wednesday indicted David Schwarts, Donna Gentry and Devan Edwards, three former Metro Corrections Officers, for their role and subsequent cover-up in the beating of Terry Whitehead, who was 19 at the time of the violence in April 2018. The trio was facing federal charges.
Following the announcement of federal charges, Whitehead’s attorney Sam Aguiar told Huffington Post on Thursday that the officers’ actions were “corrupt, cowardly and criminal.”
“Terry and his mother are pleased to see progress like this. We hope that these indictments send a message that this type of culture and behavior amongst officers will result in significant consequences,” he said. “Hopefully, with the [Department of Justice] showing that officers will truly be held accountable for covering up this type of cowardly violence, it will deter similar conduct going on here and across the country.”
Disturbing body cam footage shows the April 2018 beating. In the video, an officer accused the already bleeding Whitehead of causing problems and spitting on him. Whitehead denied the claim continuously saying, “I swear to God, I don’t give you problems like that,” as he ducked his head away from Schwartz. Then Schwartz proceeded to punch him in the head. Whitehead then lifted his legs in a defensive stance but was ordered to put his legs down and he complied.
Following the beating, the officers went on to falsify documents claiming Whitehead charged at officers and spit on them. In a lawsuit Whitehead filed last year against Schwartz, Gentry and Edwards, he accused the officers of taking turns beating him after he was pepper sprayed. WHAS11 reported that after losing consciousness, Whitehead was taken to a hospital where he was treated for contusions and swelling.
Once the body cam footage surfaced, pending charges against Whitehead were dropped and Schwartz, along with Edwards, was fired two weeks later. According to the Courier Journal, in Schwartz’s termination letter, Metro Corrections Director Mark Bolton wrote that he didn’t have the temperament for the job and said there was property damage from his “fit of rage.” Gentry ended up resigning after the incident.
Based on a statement from the U.S. Justice Department, Schwartz was charged with three felony counts, including depriving Whitehead of his right to be free from excessive force resulting in bodily injury and for allegedly filing two false reports about the incident, where one wrongfully accused Whitehead of assaulting an officer. Gentry was charged with obstruction of justice for allowing Schwartz into Whitehead’s cell against policy, filing a false document and directing a subordinate to also falsify documents. Edwards’ charge was unclear, but he was accused of punching Whitehead twice in the face and for failing to stop Schwartz from assaulting him.