A federal judge is allowing former Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton to remain free while he appeals his conviction on two counts of witness tampering.
U.S. District Judge Joseph H. McKinley concluded that Eaton has raised two reasonable issues that could result in his winning a new trial. Eaton had been scheduled to report to a federal prison in Oakdale, La., by Sept. 30 to begin serving an 18-month prison sentence.
He was convicted this year in federal court of directing two deputies to write false incident reports for the FBI. Federal investigators were probing accusations of civil rights violations during a 2010 arrest. Prosecutors had sought to force his immediate surrender, but McKinley noted that Eaton has complied with all pre-trial release conditions and is not a flight risk.
When Barren County Judge-Executive Davie Greer began looking for a new sheriff, she didn't have to go far. She choose Kent Keen, who retired from the Glasgow Police Department and joined the sheriff's office a year ago as a school resource officer.
Monday's announcement attracted a standing room- only crowd inside a Barren County circuit courtroom. A full contingent of uniformed officers stood behind him as Keen pledged to run the department by the book.
"I have three guidelines that I operate off of, and that's the KRS (Kentucky Revised Statues), the Barren County Sheriff's Department policy manual, and the Bible, just to be honest with you," explained Keen. "Some God-given common sense may go a long way, folks."
Noticeably present at Monday's announcement was Deputy Aaron Bennett, who stood trial in May alongside former Sheriff Chris Eaton. Bennett was also accused of using excessive force on a suspect in 2010 and lying about it to federal investigators. Bennett was acquitted on all charges. He told WKU Public Radio that seeing Keen sworn in felt like the beginning of a new era at the sheriff's office.
There's going to be a new sheriff in town Monday in Barren County.
Judge-Executive Davie Greer told the Glasgow Daily Times that's when she plans to announce her appointment for the position.
Former Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton resigned Wednesday, and was sentenced the next day to 18 months in prison for persuading two deputies to write false incident reports in an FBI investigation of an alleged beating during an arrest.
The 42-year-old Eaton, of Glasgow, was acquitted during his trial in May of using excessive force but convicted of witness tampering.
Greer told the newspaper that she had narrowed her selection "to four or five" people.
Former Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton will spend a year and a half in prison related to his trial on civil rights violations. Eaton was sentenced Thursday in federal court in Bowling Green.
In a courtroom packed with family and friends, Eaton wept as he talked about all the things he could no longer do as a convicted felon, such as coach Little League and volunteer in schools. He told U.S. District Court Judge Joseph McKinley that he felt like a “child predator."
“My life is over as I know it,” sobbed Eaton.
Judge McKinley replied that by all accounts, Eaton was a model citizen, but his punishment must reflect the seriousness of the convictions and the former sheriff's position of authority.
“The buck stops with you”, said McKinley. “You were in charge that day.”
Judge McKinley strayed from the prosecution's recommendation of at least seven years and ordered Eaton to serve 18 months in prison followed by two years of supervised release.
Ahead of his August 1st sentencing, Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton will resign from office at the end of the month. WKU Public Radio learned of the resignation in a sentencing memorandum filed in federal court.
In May, Eaton was convicted on two felony counts of witness tampering relating to the alleged beating of a suspect and a cover-up that followed.
U.S. District Judge Joseph McKinley last week denied a motion to overturn the verdicts or grant the sheriff a new trial. Prosecutors are asking for a prison sentence of seven to nine years, while the defense is hoping for ten to 16 months.
With his resignation, Barren County Judge-Executive Davie Greer says she will have to appoint a new sheriff to serve out the remainder of Chris Eaton’s term, which ends next December.
The Aug. 1 sentencing of Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton remains on schedule after a federal judge rejected a motion for acquittal or a new trial.
In May, Eaton was convicted on two counts of witness tampering during a trial in U.S. District Court in Bowling Green. The sheriff and two other law enforcement officers were accused of beating a suspect in handcuffs and trying to cover-up the incident to federal investigators.
The witness tampering convictions stem from Sheriff Eaton asking two deputies to lie in reports to the FBI about what they saw at the scene of Billy Stinnett’s arrest. U.S. District Judge Joseph McKinley this week issued a ruling upholding the jury’s verdicts.
“Ultimately, based on evidence presented at trial, a reasonable juror could believe that while there was not sufficient evidence to convict Eaton on the unreasonable use of force charges, there was sufficient evidence to believe that Eaton engaged in witness tampering," McKinley wrote in his order.
When he is sentenced next month, Eaton faces up to 20 years in prison, though under federal sentencing guidelines, he is likely to receive a much lighter sentence.
Update at 10:30 p.m.: Jury finds Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton guilty on two counts of witness tampering. Deputy Aaron Bennett and Drug Task Force Detective Eric Guffey were acquitted on all counts.
The federal case against Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton and two other southern Kentucky law enforcement officers is now in the hands of a jury.
Eaton, Barren County Sheriff's Deputy Aaron Bennett, and Barren-Edmonson Drug Task Force Detective Eric Guffey face charges of beating a suspect who was already in custody, and then lying about it to federal investigators.
Lawyers for Bennett and Guffey finished their closing statements Thursday morning, telling jurors they would have to believe the testimony of Adam Minor in order to find their clients guilty. Minor is a former Barren County Sheriff's Deputy who was on the scene of the incident in 2010 when suspect Billy Stinnett was taken into custody.
Minor initially pleaded guilty to the same charges facing the three defendants, but later changed his plea and agreed to testify for the prosecution.
Minor told jurors he took part in the alleged beating of Stinnett, along with the other three. Minor said the beating continued even after Stinnett was placed in handcuffs and unable to defend himself.
Attorneys for the three defendants attacked Minor's credibility throughout the trial, pointing out he has admitted to previously lying under oath to a state court and grand jury.
Lead Prosecutor Sanjay Patel tried to refute those defense arguments Thursday, telling jurors Minor realized he was on a sinking ship and decided to come forward and tell what really happened. Patel also pointed out that what Minor told jurors in this trial is supported by multiple eye-witnesses.
The case against Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton and two other officers is expected to go to the jury Thursday. Eaton, Deputy Aaron Bennett, and Barren-Edmonson County Drug Task Force Detective Eric Guffey are accused of beating a suspect and engaging in a cover-up.
Testimony ended in the week-and-a-half long trial with none of the officers testifying in their own defense.
In closing statements to the jury, Federal Prosecutor Roy Conn said three men sworn to uphold the law broke the law. He recanted eyewitness statements that suspect Billy Stinnett was on the ground in handcuffs, but the alleged assault continued.
The prosecution relied heavily on former deputy Adam Minor, who pleaded guilty to one charge and agreed to testify against the other officers.
Update at 4:45 p.m. : Sheriff Eaton's defense attorney Guthrie True concluded his closing arguments this afternoon and court was adjourned until Thursday morning when the attorneys for Aaron Bennett and Eric Guffey will give closing statements.
Update at 12:53 p.m.:
WKU Public Radio's Lisa Autry says closing statements are set for Wednesday afternoon in the federal trial against Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton, Barren County Sheriff's Deputy Aaron Bennett, and Barren-Edmonson Drug Task Force Agent Eric Guffey.
Following those closing statements, the case will go to the jury at the U.S. District Court in Bowling Green.
The jury will be tasked with deciding whether the force used by law enforcement agents against drug suspect Billy Stinnett was reasonable or excessive. The three men are also charged with lying to federal investigators about the incident.
The defense for one of the three men accused of using excessive force on a suspect already in custody has rested Wednesday morning. On trial at the federal courthouse in Bowling Green are Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton, Deputy Aaron Bennett, and Barren-Edmonson Drug Task Force Detective Eric Guffey.
Each of the accused is being represented by their own attorney. Sheriff Eaton's attorney, Guthrie True, rested his case, with attorneys for the other two men still engaging with witnesses this morning and afternoon.
The three defendants face charges of beating drug suspect Billy Stinnett while he was in custody, after Stinnett led officers on a high-speed, two-county chase in 2010. Stinnett crashed his vehicle into a Glasgow church and was placed under arrest.
The defendants say Stinnett resisted arrest, and that the force used against him was reasonable under the circumstances. Prosecutors say Stinnett was beated even after he was subdued and placed in handcuffs.