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Trial of former RCI officers recessed early

State's final witness was not transported to Washington Co. Circuit Court

State's final witness was not transported to Washington Co. Circuit Court

October 06, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- The trial of three former Roxbury Correctional Institution officers charged with second-degree assault recessed early Tuesday afternoon because the state's final witness, former RCI inmate Kenneth Davis, was not transported to Washington County Circuit Court.

The trial for Tyson Hinkle, 34, Dustin Norris, 25, and Michael Morgan, 39, who are charged in connection with an alleged assault on Davis on March 9, 2008, was scheduled to reconvene today at 10 a.m.

Davis has been moved out of state for security reasons, Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman Mark Vernarelli said Tuesday.

According to court records available online, Maryland State Police were sent an order Sept. 29 to transport Davis for trial. The records indicate police were to be ready to transport Davis to Washington County between Oct. 5 and 7.

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Washington County Circuit Judge M. Kenneth Long Jr. expressed displeasure that Davis was not available Tuesday to testify. Having to recess early to await Davis' arrival is "not conducive to the orderly dispensation of justice," Long said.

Davis has alleged he was assaulted by officers on three different shifts: the March 8, 2008, 3 to 11 p.m. shift; the following shift; and the March 9, 2008, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift.

Hinkle, Norris and Morgan were working the March 9 shift, records indicate.

The case has its roots in a March 8, 2008, incident in which correctional officer Timothy Mellott went to check on Davis in his cell on the housing tier and the inmate allegedly struck Mellott in the face. Davis was taken to a holding cell in the medical dispensary, where prosecutors alleged he was attacked.

Two of the officers accused of that assault -- Keith Morris and Robert Harvey -- were acquitted last month. Scott Boozel, another officer accused of assaulting Davis on March 8, 2008, in that holding cell, saw his trial declared a mistrial in June after the jury couldn't reach a verdict.

Assistant Maryland Attorney General Jason Abbott said Monday that Davis was taken from the dispensary to a cell in the prison's Administrative Segregation Intake Area (ASIA).

Prosecutors allege that Hinkle, Norris, Morgan and other officers went to that cell at the beginning of the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift on March 9, 2008, and found Davis lying on the floor. As the officers beat him, he made no attempt to defend himself because he couldn't, Abbott said Monday.

Maryland State Police Cpl. Rick Bachtell, the lead criminal investigator in the case, testified Tuesday morning.

When asked about the video surveillance system in the ASIA and medical dispensary, Bachtell said video images on the tape started at 7:28 a.m. on March 9, 2008. Before that time, the tapes were snowy and staticky, he testified.

Under questioning by defense attorney George Knight, who represents Hinkle, Bachtell said he did not record many of the interviews he conducted during the investigation because Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Detective Mark Forrest was present for them.

While being questioned by defense attorney Timothy Conlon, who represents Norris, Bachtell said Davis never identified any of the three defendants as having assaulted him.

Former RCI officer Lucas Kelly, who pleaded guilty in May to second-degree assault and agreed to testify against his fellow officers, took the stand Tuesday.

He testified that on March 9, 2008, officers were informed during roll call that Davis had assaulted Mellott. Kelly described himself, Morgan and Norris as "very disgruntled" by the news.

They decided to make a trip to the ASIA to make an example of Davis, Kelly testified. He drove a van, with Morgan and Norris inside, to the building that houses the ASIA, Kelly testified.

They entered the building through a back door and removed any identifying clothing, Kelly testified.

"If you're going to assault somebody, you don't want to leave your nametag there," Kelly said.

Another correctional officer, who was not charged, opened the door to Davis's cell, Kelly testified. He told Davis, "rise and shine (expletive)" and was the first one through the cell door, Kelly testified.

Kelly, Hinkle, Morgan and Norris each hit and kicked Davis, Kelly testified. The inmate tried to defend himself but couldn't, Kelly testified.

To his knowledge, none of them touched Davis's face or head, Kelly testified.

Pictures taken later that day at Washington County Hospital show Davis' eyes swollen and purple.

"You don't leave bruises where people can ask questions," Kelly testified.

Kelly testified that he made two statements to investigators April 4, 2008.

He first told Bachtell a fabricated story that he, Morgan and Norris went to ASIA to see if Hinkle, who was working there, needed help with Davis.

Kelly testified that he went home later that day and had his father-in-law, a former warden at North Branch Correctional Institution near Cumberland, call Bachtell and invite him to Kelly's home.

That evening, Kelly told Bachtell the truth -- the account he told the jury Tuesday -- he testified.

Kelly testified that after he gave Bachtell his statement, he resigned from his job.

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