MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

May 4, 2013

Ex-jailers face suit, charges in abuse

Third former jailer named in connection to alleged beatings

Another domino dropped this week in the ongoing saga of alleged civil rights violations and prisoner abuse at the county jail.

Carlos Keys, who was jailed at the Muskogee County/City Detention Center in May 2011, alleges he was assaulted twice by jailers. The allegations were included in a lawsuit that names the board of county commissioners, the sheriff and three jailers as defendants.

Muskogee County Sheriff Charles Pearson is being sued for allegedly failing to supervise the three jailers and implementing a custom that created violent conditions at the jail. Pearson said while he cannot comment specifically about the case, he believes the jailers “acted outside the scope of their authority.”

Two of the former jailers, Raymond Barnes and Chris Brown, worked as jail administrators before they were let go during the midst of a criminal investigation of civil rights violations. Both men face multiple criminal charges as a result of indictments filed in February by a federal grand jury.

The third jailer named as a defendant in Keys’ civil rights lawsuit, which was  filed Wednesday in Muskogee County District Court, is John Guinn. Keys’ petition alleges Guinn, who no longer works at the jail, assaulted the inmate while he was shackled to a hospital bed and being treated for chest pains.

Barnes, the former jail superintendent, and Brown, a former assistant administrator, allegedly assaulted Keys after he was transported back to the jail. Both Barnes and Brown were fired from their jobs five months after Keys said he was assaulted.

Muskogee County Commission Chairman Stephen Wright, District 2, said he has yet to see the petition filed on behalf of Keys. Because he was unaware of any specifics and because the lawsuit is pending, he declined to comment.

Keys’ petition, which was filed by the Tulsa-based Bryan & Terrill Law, recites the allegations upon which federal prosecutors made their case against Barnes and Brown.

“The atmosphere of violence existed at the Muskogee County Jail from August 2009 through at least May 2011,” Steven Terrill states in the petition. “The ability of Barnes and Brown to create a pervasive atmosphere of violence ... was possible as a direct result of a custom implemented by ... Pearson to delegate authority over the Muskogee County Jail to Barnes and Brown and Pearson’s failure to adequately supervise their actions.”

The federal indictments against Barnes and Brown allege they would “unjustifiably strike, assault, harm and physically punish inmates ... who were restrained, compliant and not posing a physical threat to anyone.”

Prosecutors also allege the pair would “organize meet-and-greets,” during which “jailers would scare, punish and harm incoming inmates from neighboring counties.” The alleged conduct included “throwing and slamming the handcuffed inmates to the ground.”

The indictment alleges Barnes and Brown coerced other jailers to take part by threatening termination if the conduct were exposed and encouraging them to file false reports justifying the use of force.

Online court records show Barnes has been identified in at least six lawsuits filed against Muskogee County, the jail or the sheriff since 2007. Brown was named in three  lawsuits.

Pearson has maintained corrective measures were taken immediately after he became aware there may have been a problem at the jail.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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