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Alcoholic Inmate Sent To Work At Nashville Bar

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Joseph Heaton Joseph Heaton
Sgt. Steven Young Sgt. Steven Young
Sgt. Steven Young Sgt. Steven Young
Joseph Heaton Joseph Heaton
Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall

By Ben Hall
Investigative Reporter
 

Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall is defending the county's work release program after an inmate with a history of violence and alcohol problems was put to work in a Nashville nightclub. 

Joseph Heaton is in jail for brutally beating and nearly killing a Special Forces soldier in 2006. 

The 25-year-old told a Nashville judge that he was too drunk to remember what happened. Yet the sheriff's office sent Heaton to work at Decades, a dance club on Broadway. 

After six weeks on the job, police arrested Heaton for public intoxication, and the district attorney's office is considering attempted escape charges.  

Sgt. Steven Young is furious the sheriff's office would approve work release for a violent alcoholic in a bar on the same block where his attack occurred. 

"I was lying on the ground with blood pouring from my ears and face and nose," said Young as he showed pictures of himself after the attack.  

He was in a coma for two weeks, and spent four months in the hospital relearning how to walk. He had to put his military career on hold. 

"Two of what were supposed to be my best years were just melted away in recovery," said Young. 

The man who attacked Young in October of 2006 blamed his drinking problem for what happened.

An attorney asked Heaton on the witness stand, "How much of kicking Sergeant Young do you remember?" 

"I have no recollection hardy," replied Heaton. 

"He said in court he's an alcoholic. He was blacked out, drunk. He doesn't remember what happened. He doesn't remember anything," said Young remembering Heaton's testimony. 

Heaton told the judge he drank heavily seven days a week. Despite the brutality of his attack, he was given a suspended sentenced and put on probation. 

Weeks later, on a night when he had downed several bottles of vodka, Heaton was arrested for DUI. The judge reinstated his sentence and sent him to jail for five years. 

While in jail, Heaton applied for the work release program. Despite his long history battling alcohol, the Davidson County Sheriff's Office found him a job working the overnight shift at a nightclub on Broadway. 

The website for Decades shows it's a place where alcohol is everywhere. 

Heaton's shift ended at 4 a.m. The nightclub happens to be on the same block where Heaton attacked Sgt. Young. 

"He was on work release 50 yards from where he nearly killed me? It doesn't make any sense to me," said Young. 

After just a few weeks on the job Heaton did not return to the Metro jail. Police found him passed out in front of a bar on Second Avenue. Police arrested him for public intoxication. 

"How is a violent alcoholic put in a job in a bar?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Sheriff Daron Hall. 

"That is a concern of mine, just the way it is said," responded Hall. 

The sheriff said Heaton had completed alcohol treatment and the department had checked on him at 7:30 p.m. on the night he got drunk and passed out. 

"We're internally not proud of it, and it has nothing to do with the news media. We're well aware of the case, and we're internally focusing on how we could do a better job," said Hall. 

NewsChannel 5 Investigates obtained Heaton's work release application which shows he made it clear that he had a drinking problem.  

"My drinking problem led me to get into a fight behind a bar," wrote Heaton. 

In his criminal case, Heaton testified that being near bars was too tempting for him. The judge noted "Heaton has attempted to turn his life around by moving away from downtown ... to keep himself from going out to bars at night." 

Despite all that, he was sent to work in a bar. 

"The system has fallen apart," said Young. "The system is broken." 

Sheriff Hall defended the work release program as one that prepares inmates for jobs once they're out of jail. 

"Was it the best situation? Obviously not because it failed," Hall said. "There are plenty of cases that are successful and are continuing today." 

Young said the city is lucky no one was hurt like he was. He questions the way work release is run. 

"I guarantee you I'm not the only one. It's got to change," said Young. 

Heaton is back in jail and off that job. Sheriff Hall does not plan to keep inmates in the future away from alcohol or even from working in bars. He said finding work for inmates is difficult but important because it prepares them for work once they are released.

Hall said there are about 50 inmates in work release and most jobs they can find involve some proximity to alcohol. 

Sheriff Hall said he would like the board that approves inmates for work release to have a chance to hear from the victims of their crime.  

E-mail: bhall@newschannel5.com

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