6th Circuit Says Sheriff’s Convictions Will Stand

     CINCINNATI (CN) – The 6th Circuit refused to overturn the convictions of a former sheriff who coerced his deputies into signing false incident reports following the beating of a handcuffed arrestee.
     Former Barren County, Ky., Sheriff Christopher Eaton was charged with and convicted of two counts of witness tampering in 2012.
     The charges stemmed from a February 2010 incident in which Eaton cornered a suspect in a blind alley and beat him with a baton before and after handcuffing and arresting the man.
     Several of Eaton’s deputies also beat the man while he was handcuffed, and a photo allegedly captured the then-sheriff punching the suspect in the groin.
     Two teenage eyewitnesses reported the incident to their father, who notified the local police department, who in turn told the FBI.
     During the federal investigation, Eaton asked two of his deputies – Adam Minor and Steve Runyon – to falsify incident reports about the arrest.
     Fearful of losing their jobs, Minor and Runyon complied with Eaton’s request, and reported that the suspect had a knife, refused to obey verbal commands and resisted arrest.
     During the 2012 trial, Minor and Runyon testified they had lied in their reports, and Runyon claimed he was shunned by the department following the Sheriff’s indictment.
     Eaton was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2013, while Deputy Minor pleaded guilty to providing a false statement and was sentenced to two years probation.
     In his appeal, Eaton claimed the deputies were unreliable because the two men gave inconsistent testimony and admitted perjuring themselves at the sheriff’s request.
     U.S. Circuit Judge Eric Clay quickly dismissed the argument, writing, “The jury was entitled to believe the trial testimony of the two officers. It is not this court’s role to reweigh the evidence or to reevaluate the credibility of witnesses. … And the fact that Runyon and Minor acknowledged perjuring themselves at defendant’s request can hardly be said to weigh objectively in defendant’s favor.”
     Eaton also made allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, and specifically pointed out a portion of the prosecutor’s closing argument that he claimed “constituted a comment on his decision not to testify.”
     The prosecutor referred to an expert witness who explained to the jury the certain types of force that would be used by police if a suspect was resisting arrest.
     During his remarks, the attorney said: “You got to ask yourself why are the defendants asking him if the force defendants used was justified if none of the defendants said they used any force on him? … You got to ask yourself why are they asking him those questions if none of them came forward and said that’s what they actually did?” (emphasis in original)
     The attorney eventually clarified his comments to the jury by adding that he was referring to statements made in the reported filed by the deputies, and even though the lower court agreed with Eaton that the comments were improper, it determined “that they did not meet the standard for flagrancy.”
     The 6th Circuit agreed, and Judge Clay wrote: “The evidence against defendant on the witness tampering charges was very strong. Any prejudice or misleading effect from the remarks was limited both by the prosecutor’s clarification that his comments pertained only to the statements made in the reports, which were part of the record, and by the district court’s instructions that defendant had an absolute right to remain silent and that his silence could not be used against him.”
     Eaton’s attorney did not immediately return a request for comment.

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