CATLETTSBURG An Eastern Kentucky county and its insurance carrier have reached a $1.75 million civil settlement with the estate of a man who died at the county jail due to alleged abuse by former jail guards.
Documents obtained by The Daily Independent Thursday morning shows Boyd County, Ky., and the estate of Michael Lee Moore reached the settlement on June 19.
The paperwork said the Kentucky Association of Counties All Lines Fund, which is the insurance carrier for Boyd County, agreed to pay Moore's estate "the sum of one million seven hundred fifty thousand dollars" to Moore's estate. A flower box will also be constructed outside the detention center with a memorial plaque for Moore. The statement says if Boyd County complies with those terms the estate will release its claims against the county.
Boyd County Attorney C. Phillip Hedrick declined comment on the settlement when reached Thursday. Also declining comment was Boyd County Jailer Bill Hensley, who took office a month after Moore died.
An attorney listed on the settlement agreement, Jeremy L. Clark, of Catlettsburg, did not respond to a request for comment.
The settlement stems from the November death of Moore, 40. Moore was brought to the detention center on public intoxication charges. He was eventually placed in a restraint chair for an extended period of time at the jail, according to Kentucky State Police. Jail video shown in court shows Moore in the chair flailing his legs. It shows deputies pushing his head onto the concrete wall, struggling with him on the ground, using a Taser on him and throwing him at the chair.
Five former deputies were charged with manslaughter in the case. During testimony offered as part of pretrial hearings in the former deputies' ongoing prosecution, investigators said Moore bled to death internally after deputy jailers allegedly threw him against a toilet. The impact cracked three ribs and caused the bleeding that killed Moore about 28 hours after he was booked into the jail Nov. 28, according to Kentucky State Police detective Jeff Kelly.
Kelly based his statement on a post-autopsy interview with the state medical examiner.
The deputies charged are Zachary Messer of Ashland, Brad Roberts of Westwood, Colton Griffith of Flatwoods, Jeremy Mattox of Grayson and Alicia Beller of Putnam, W.Va. Beller subsequently pleaded guilty to wanton endangerment in Boyd County Circuit Court in May under an agreement that doesn’t include any prison time. She will be placed in a five-year diversion program that requires her to cooperate with authorities investigating the inmate’s death. Charges against the remaining four are pending. A recent pretrial proceeding for two of the defendants were delayed due to what was described as pending federal activity.
The injury that occurred in the restroom is not visible on the jail video because deputies are standing between the camera and the restroom door. Kelly said details came from his interviews with the deputies.
Beller told him she heard a crack when Moore was in the restroom and Roberts said the deputies had been too rough, Kelly testified.
None of the five sought medical assistance for Moore, he said.
The video “shows a pattern of abuse from corrections staff,” Kelly alleged.
The death was one of several alarming incidents at the county jail in 2017-2018 that were documented by The Daily Independent. They included multiple drug overdoses by inmates -- two of them fatal -- repeated escapes, accidental releases of inmates and even a riot. Inmate Charles Shawn Finley, 36, of Ashland, died at the jail in a suspected drug overdose. Six months prior a third inmate died at the jail due to acute methamphetamine intoxication. Laura Riley, 44, had been in custody for two days at the time of her death.
Former County Jailer Joe Burchett was indicted in February 2018 on a misdemeanor charge of malfeasance or neglect of a county officer. He maintained his innocence and resigned in December 2018. The case was subsequently dismissed in Rowan County court.
New Jailer Bill Hensley was appointed after Burchett resigned and Hensley was subsequently elected to the position by Boyd County voters. Since then a number of sweeping changes have been instituted at the jail. Just this week, on Wednesday, a body scanner was put in place to deter the smuggling of narcotics into the jail. The county's Fiscal Court also allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars to raise pay for front-line staffers, addressing a terminal issue of low pay and turnover of employees at the facility.
In March the U.S. Department of Justice informed Boyd County leaders that conditions at the county jail -- including excessive use of a restraint chair -- violate provisions of the U.S. Constitution.
Boyd County leaders received a letter from Eric S. Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division. The letter notified county leaders that conditions at the jail are unconstitutional.
"After carefully reviewing the evidence, we conclude that there is reasonable cause to believe that conditions at the jail violate the Fourth, Eighth and 14th amendments to the Constitution and that these violations are pursuant to a pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of rights protected by the Fourth, Eighth and 14th Amendments," Dreiband wrote. "In particular we have reasonable cause to believe that Boyd County routinely subjects prisoners to excessive force through the use of chemical agents, electronic control devices and restraint chairs. We also have reasonable cause to believe that Boyd County routinely violates prisoners rights to bodily privacy through its use of restraint chairs. We do not conclude that there is reasonable cause to believe that the jail violates the Constitution with respect to the placement of prisoners in restrictive housing."
Dreiband thanked the jail for assisting in the federal investigation. The federal government could choose to initiate a lawsuit to correct conditions at the jail.
Hensley pledged complete cooperation with federal officials.
“I know prior to December 3 the pepper spray was used quite often and so were the tasers,” Hensley said at the time. “We've gone through a lot of state training and training through Bare Arms (a local gun and safety training business.) We've yet to have one on taser deployment and one pepper spray deployment since I took office.”
The Daily Independent detailed extensive training that has since taken place for jail staffers regarding improving the treatment of inmates and ugrades in medical treatment offered to the incarcerated.
In the settlement agreement obtained Thursday the document said the estate of Michael Moore would receive $1.75 million. A flower box with memorial plaque would be placed outside the jail in memory of Moore. The document said the sole heir of Michael Lee Moore is his brother, Herbert Moore. Herbert Moore could not be located or reached by the newspaper on Thursday. The paper could not locate a civil case file containing a lawsuit at Boyd County Circuit Court under either the county's name or the name of Michael Moore. There also appeared to be no such case file in U.S. District Court online records.