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Two Kentucky Jail Guards Face Charges in Prisoner’s Death

Two Kentucky Jail Guards Face Charges in Prisoner’s Death

by David Reutter

A special prosecutor has been appointed to try a first-degree manslaughter case against two Kentucky jail guards indicted in the 2013 beating death of a 54-year-old prisoner who was being held on a DUI charge. Assistant Attorney General Barbara Maines-Whaley was named on February 26, 2014 to serve as prosecuting attorney.

Maines-Whaley will present the state’s evidence against Kentucky River Regional Jail guards Damon W. Hickman and William C. Howell, who were indicted for the July 9, 2013 death of prisoner Larry Trent after an altercation at the jail. Following the incident, Trent was restrained and placed in a holding cell. At around 10:50 a.m., jail staff found him unresponsive; he was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Although an official cause of death was not released, the state medical examiner’s preliminary report cited “jail beating” as the cause of Trent’s injuries. That report found Trent had suffered “blunt impacts of the head, trunk, and extremities with multiple skeletal and visceral injuries.”

In an incident report obtained by the Hazard Herald newspaper, Howell wrote that Trent “came out fighting. I tased him, [but] he didn’t stop.” The report claimed the fight began at around 7:30 a.m. over “items he was not allowed” to have in his cell.

In a separate report, jail employee James C. Combs was cited for “carelessness” for witnessing the altercation but failing to intervene. Combs “would not help in a fight, stood and watched, then walked off,” the report said.

On July 9, 2014, Trent’s family marked the one-year anniversary of his death. Trent left behind four children and several grandchildren.

“He was our protector,” said his daughter, Jolene Trent. “When we lost that, everything just went bad for us. My kids ... they miss him and ask me where their Papaw is. And I tell them Papaw is in heaven.”

The charges against Hickman and Howell remain pending. Asked about Trent’s death, Kentucky River Regional Jail Administrator Tim Kilburn said the two guards had “made a mistake.” He added, “We don’t want one negative incident to define everybody here at the jail.”