Cocke County sheriff arrests former jailer over ‘body-slamming’ during booking


NEWPORT, Tenn. (WATE) – A Cocke County jailer has been arrested as a result of an internal sheriff’s office investigation of allegations of excessive force in a jail booking.

Former jailer Kelton Townsend was arrested by the Cocke County Sheriff’s Office after evidence from an internal investigation was presented to a grand jury, Cocke County Sheriff Armando Fontes said Friday afternoon in an email.

Fontes said in the emailed news release he recently received a video showing a former sheriff’s office correctional officer using excessive force on an inmate. After viewing the video, he turned the video over to the district attorney’s office and launched an internal criminal investigation.

Former Cocke County Jailer Kelton Townsend (Cocke County Sheriff’s Office)

The former correctional officer was indicted Tuesday after the results of the internal investigation were presented to the Cocke County Grand Jury.

“The conduct shown on the video is not in accordance with what the Cocke County Sheriff’s Office stands for. We believe in training, having our officers follow appropriate standards in the use of force, and the protection of all persons,” Fontes said. “It is unfortunate that this former employee acted outside the scope of the Sheriff’s Office use of force training and policy.”

Because of a pending lawsuit involving the same incident, Fontes said the sheriff’s office would have no further comment.

Townsend was taken into custody on Friday at 12:30 p.m. He is being held in jail on a $50,000 bond.

The lawsuit was filed earlier this year in U.S. District Court in Knoxville. It seeks more than $5 million in damages from Cocke County from the alleged excessive force and denial of medical treatment during the jail booking.

Jerry Miller alleges in the lawsuit that excessive force was used and he was denied adequate medical care when eight of his ribs were broken and his lung punctured during booking at the Cocke County Jail on Feb. 21, 2019.

Miller says “he was picked up by a very large deputy/officer and body-slammed on the floor of the jail facility.” He also says in the lawsuit the jailer jumped on him and then threw him against a wall.

The lawsuit says he was treated for his injuries at UT Medical Center.

In a court filing in response to the lawsuit, Cocke County denies excessive force was used and notes that jail personnel called an ambulance for Miller on the day after the incident.

Miller had been arrested for interring with a 911 call in a dispute with his girlfriend.

Cocke County attorneys have asked that the lawsuit be dismissed.

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