Government & Politics

Former guards convicted in beating that exposed problems at the Jackson County jail

Two former jail guards were found guilty of civil rights charges in a 2015 beating that first drew attention to mismanagement and poor conditions at the Jackson County Detention Center.

After a week-long trial, a federal jury deliberated four hours Friday before finding Travis Hewitt, 29, and Terrance Dooley Jr., 38, guilty of violating an inmate’s constitutional protection against unreasonable force. The Kansas City men face a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Two other former corrections officers charged in connection with the beating recently pleaded guilty to their roles: Jen-I Pulos, 38, for deprivation of rights, and Dakota Pearce, 26, for his role in the conspiracy, the U.S. District Attorney’s office said.

Hewitt, Dooley, Pulos and Pearce were indicted in April 2017.

“These corrections officers were convicted by a jury of their peers for severely beating and wounding a disoriented and compliant inmate,” assistant attorney general Eric Dreiband of the Justice Department’s civil rights division said in a written statement. “This conduct betrays their oath as law enforcement officers and violates the Constitution.”

Two years ago, Jackson County agreed to pay James J. Ramirez $437,500 to settle his lawsuit seeking compensation for the injuries he suffered as a result of the July 4, 2015, beating. In addition to broken ribs, he suffered a punctured lung, bruises to his face and wrist injuries.

According to federal prosecutors, Ramirez had arrived at the jail in downtown Kansas City on a probation violation. He was drunk and disoriented. At one point, he attempted to leave a secure area and got into a brief struggle with a female corrections officer.

Hewitt, Dooley, Pulos and Pearce were upset that Ramirez was locked in a cell rather than being placed in a restraint chair, prosecutors said, and they decided to punish him for the earlier incident. On the false pretense that he’d somehow fashioned a comb into a sharp weapon, Dooley and Pulos removed Ramirez from his cell and took him to a holding area that was out of sight of the surveillance cameras. Along with Hewitt and Dooley, the four guards beat the helpless detainee until he required hospitalization.

News of the beating surfaced when former Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders announced in late August 2015 that the FBI was investigating the incident. At the time, he also formed a citizens committee to investigate conditions within the jail that might have led to the violence.

The work of the task force and its subsequent report that fall provided the community its first look at the detention center’s many problems. Among them: underpaid guards, filthy conditions, poor security and inadequate medical services.

Many other revelations and reports followed, leading to the now-stalled discussion about building a new jail.

The county legislature recently put off indefinitely a proposed $9 million contract with a company to oversee planning and construction of a new jail. Legislators said it didn’t seem like a good time to be spending that kind of money when many taxpayers are worried they might be hit with big tax bills as a result of the 2019 reassessment.

Related stories from Kansas City Star

Mike Hendricks is a member of The Star’s investigations and watchdog reporting team. Send tips and story ideas in confidence by email to mhendricks@kcstar.com, Twitter direct message @kcmikehendricks, or anonymously via Signal encrypted message at 816-234-4738
  Comments