Former Correctional Officers Plead Guilty After Kentucky Detainee Brutalized

Terry Whitehead
Former Louisville Metro Department of Corrections Officer David M. Schwartz, 48, admitted in his plea agreement to punching the detainee, identified in court documents as “T.W.,” in the face. Rawf8/Getty

Two former Louisville correctional officers have pleaded guilty in connection with a brutal assault on a Kentucky man being held before trial and a subsequent cover-up attempt, the Justice Department announced Thursday.

Former Louisville Metro Department of Corrections Officer David M. Schwartz, 48, admitted in his plea agreement to punching the detainee, identified in court documents as "T.W.," in the face "while he was handcuffed and posing no threat."

The assault, which occurred in April 2018, took place in a holding cell after T.W. was moved from his dormitory, where Schwartz had also "punched T.W. several times," according to the indictment.

Civil court documents in the Western District of Kentucky reveal T.W. to be Terry Whitehead, a Louisville resident who filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in May 2018, still ongoing, against Schwartz and another officer involved in the incident.

Donna K. Gentry, 55, then serving as a sergeant in the department, pleaded guilty to helping Schwartz cover up the assault. She filed an incident report after the beating, which falsely accused Whitehead of charging Schwartz, spitting at him and striking his face when he entered Whitehead's dormitory. Gentry also falsely claimed in the report that she provided Whitehead with fair warning before dousing him with pepper spray.

In a copy of Gentry's false incident report that was obtained by Newsweek, she described Whitehead as "combative" and as engaging in "continuous fighting."

The other former correctional officer named in Whitehead's civil suit, Devan Edwards, earlier pleaded guilty in federal criminal court to participating in the assault. Acting on Gentry's orders, Edwards reiterated her false description of events in his own supplemental report. The indictment says the two corroborated their stories but conspired to "change the wording so it would not be obvious to investigators that he had copied from her."

Schwartz took his role in the cover-up even further, filing a citation against Whitehead for third-degree felony assault. In Kentucky, this kind of assault is considered a Class D felony, which carries with it a potential prison term of five years and a mandatory minimum of one year. He was charged with and pleaded guilty to filing false reports and depriving Whitehead of his civil rights.

According to Schwartz's plea agreement, he and Edwards decided not to activate their body cameras, in contravention of department policy, because "they did not want a record of what was about to occur."

Nevertheless, Edwards "accidentally activated his body camera," inadvertently recording part of the holding cell assault.

The criminal charges levied against Schwartz carry a potential term of imprisonment of up to 50 years, although guilty pleas curry substantial favor with the courts when determining a sentence. The charge against Gentry carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.

The details alleged in Whitehead's civil action depict a brutal encounter between himself and the officers.

"Whitehead suffered contusions, swelling, and blacked out as a result of the continuous blows to his face and head," the suit claims. "He was taken to University of Louisville Hospital on April 25, 2018 after losing consciousness while in custody."

Through his civil complaint, Whitehead is seeking to recover the medical costs associated with his post-assault treatment, punitive damages and "pain and suffering" damages.

"Correctional officers are sworn to uphold and defend the laws of our nation and to ensure the safety of the inmates under their control," Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said in a press release. "These defendants knowingly violated the constitutional rights of an inmate and then lied to cover it up, thereby abusing the powers that the public entrusted to them. The Department of Justice will continue to hold correctional officers accountable for their actions."

In response to a request for comment, Louisville Metro Department of Corrections Assistant Director Steve Durham provided Newsweek with the following statement:

"Metro Corrections officers are committed to protecting those under their supervision and keeping them safe. As soon as Metro Corrections officials became aware of these employees' misconduct, they took immediate steps, including termination of the employees and notification to law enforcement officials. While the employees' actions were disappointing, [the] pleas reflect months of diligent investigative work and intelligence sharing among justice partners and underscore our commitment to respecting the civil rights of the people we are charged with supervising."

Representatives for Whitehead, Gentry, Schwartz and Edwards did not respond to requests for comment.

This article has been updated to include a statement from the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections.