A Cocke County man is suing Cocke County and its sheriff’s department alleging excessive force after he reported a former corrections officer picked him up and body-slammed him onto the floor while he was handcuffed, resulting in serious injuries.
The former corrections officer, Kelton Townsend, 29, Clinch View Road, Morristown, has been indicted by a Cocke County grand jury for aggravated assault and official oppression. At last report, Townsend was being held on a $50,000 bond.
Jerry Miller, Woodlawn Avenue, Newport, says the incident occurred as he was being booked into the jail in February. Bodycam video released to the media shows Miller being thrown to the floor after he refused to cooperate with Townsend, who was trying to take a booking photo and remove the defendant’s wallet from his pocket.
The federal lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, alleges Miller sustained eight broken ribs and a punctured lung in the incident. The plaintiff also claims he was denied adequate medical care and wasn’t treated until the next morning, after he was released from jail.
Miller says after he was released, a corrections officer called an ambulance. He was first treated at the Newport Medical Center, and later transferred to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville.
In its initial answer to the lawsuit, the county claimed that Miller resisted and “force was used to restrain and control” him. The answer said that the “force was reasonable and appropriate.”
In follow-up response after the bodycam footage was released, an attorney representing the defendants emailed Miller’s attorney to say the video shows “Cocke County’s correctional officer throwing Miller to the floor even though Mr. Miller appears to be only verbally resisting the officer’s instructions.”
The email said an amended answer to the complaint would be filed admitting the “force used was excessive,” and that Miller was not physically resisting the officer. Miller was in jail on a charge of interfering with an emergency call during a verbal altercation with his girlfriend.
The lawsuit demands $5 million in damages plus other damages.
On Friday, Cocke County Sheriff Armando Fontes said after he viewed the video of the incident, he turned it over to the office of District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn, and also launched an internal criminal investigation.
“The conduct shown on the video is not in accordance with what the Cocke County Sheriff’s Office stands for,” the sheriff said. “We believe in training, having our officers follow appropriate standards in the use of force, and the protection of all persons. It is unfortunate that this former employee acted outside the scope of the sheriff’s office use of force training and policy.”
Because of the pending litigation, the sheriff said he will have no further comment on the matter.