Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Sixth Circuit Upholds Conviction and Sentences for Jail Guards Accused of Abusing, Killing Prisoners

Sixth Circuit Upholds Conviction and Sentences for Jail Guards Accused of Abusing, Killing Prisoners

by Brandon Sample

On February 4, 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the conviction and sentences of two Wilson County, Tennessee jail guards accused of conspiring to violate the civil rights of prisoners.

Patrick Marlowe was a leader at the Wilson County Jail, just not a very good one. Marlowe, the evening shift supervisor, led himself along with co-workers Tommy Shane Conatser and Gary Hale to federal prison for conspiring to sadistically abuse – and even kill – the very prisoners they were supposed to safeguard. [See: PLN, February 2006, p.1].

Following the beating death of a prisoner at the hands of Marlowe and Hale, an investigation revealed evidence that a group of evening shift guards, led by Marlowe, would “strike and kick” prisoners who were “loud, obnoxious or uncooperative.” To conceal their misdeeds, the guards would deny the prisoners medical care and prepare false reports regarding the incidents.

They would even go so far as to keep a tally of the prisoners Marlowe struck hard enough to render unconscious, called the “knock-out list.” That list had as many as 21 names on it. Marlowe and the other guards would also “discuss, recount, and reenact” the assaults when they were together, but not when guards who were not part of their “inner circle” were present.

In October 2001, for example, Sergio Martinez was brutally beaten after being taken to the Wilson County Jail for drunk driving. Upon his arrival at the facility, Martinez was “mouthy” with Marlowe. When he refused to answer some questions during booking, Martinez was taken to a detox cell and beaten unconscious. Both Marlowe and Conatser falsified reports related to the incident, and the assault on Martinez was added as number 11 to the knock-out list.

On April 30, 2002, Marlowe was forced off the road by a suspected drunk driver named Paul Armes. Marlowe was off-duty at the time, but followed Armes home and called police. Armes was arrested and taken to the Wilson County Jail. Before he arrived, Marlowe called ahead and told his cohorts to “handle it”; after returning to the jail, he “beat the shit” out of Armes.

On January 13, 2003, Walter Kuntz was taken to the Wilson County Jail after fleeing the scene of a minor accident. He was placed in a detox cell and started kicking the door and screaming. Marlowe entered the cell, punched Kuntz in the left side of his head, threw him toward the wall, and “kicked, punched and kneed” him in the rib area. Kuntz quieted down for a short time, but then started screaming and banging on the cell door again.

Marlowe told Hale to “take care of the situation.” Hale took that to mean he should do whatever was necessary to get Kuntz to stop hitting the door. Hale delivered three or four “full power” punches to the right side of Kuntz’s head. With each punch, Kuntz’s head bounced off the wall and made a “cracking sound.” Hale told Marlowe that he had “taken care of it.”

A short while later, Kuntz’s mother called the jail and told a guard that her son had undergone brain surgery a year or two earlier. The message was relayed to Hale. When Hale and Marlowe checked on Kuntz, they found him passed out in his own vomit. Kuntz remained unconscious for several hours without medical attention; when EMTs were finally called, neither Marlowe nor Hale told them about Kuntz’s head trauma. He later died from his injuries.

Doctors testified at trial that had Kuntz’s head injuries been treated sooner, he likely would have lived. Eight guards were subsequently prosecuted, including Hale, Conatser and Marlowe. Conatser was sentenced to 70 months while Marlowe received a life sentence. [See: PLN, April 2007, p.26].

On appeal, Conatser argued that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction. The Sixth Circuit disagreed, finding his participation in the conspiracy was sufficiently proved through his falsification of a report related to the Martinez incident, by standing outside cells while Marlowe committed assaults, and by his membership in the group of guards who talked, joked about and reenacted the beatings. The appellate court also rejected Conatser and Marlowe’s challenges to their sentences, finding neither sentence to be procedurally or substantively unreasonable.

Accordingly, the Court of Appeals affirmed Conatser’s conviction and the sentences for both Conatser and Marlowe. See: United States v. Conatser, 514 F.3d 508 (6th Cir. 2008), cert. denied.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

United States v. Conatser