Disturbing Jail Video Leads To County Paying Inmate - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

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Disturbing Jail Video Leads To County Paying Inmate

Posted: Updated: Nov 7, 2013 10:27 PM
45-year-old Teresa Smith 45-year-old Teresa Smith
Sheriff David Andrews Sheriff David Andrews

by Ben Hall
Investigative Reporter

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. - A Middle Tennessee county paid a $20,000 settlement to a former female inmate after she claimed deputies beat and abused her.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates obtained video of the incident after waiting nearly two years for local and federal investigations to be completed.

The video shows Putnam County Sheriff's deputies tased and, in one case, kicked an inmate who was face down on the floor.  

Teresa Smith, 45, was arrested on a probation violation, and she said that the jail refused to give her the doctor prescribed anti-anxiety medication she had taken for years.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Smith, "You were not in your right mind?"

"No, no," she replied.

"And why weren't you in your right mind?"

"From being taken off my medicine."

Jail videos show officers forced Smith into a so-called restraint chair several times after her arrest in September of 2011.

She went into the chair with no major problems shortly after her arrest, but was clearly becoming more and more agitated.

Eight days after her arrest, completely off the Xanax doctors had prescribed, jailers again tried to put Smith in a restraint chair.

This time, they called in patrol officers when she refused.

"They did horrible things to me," Smith remembered. "Next thing you know -- pow, pow, pow -- they're shooting me with Tasers."

When Smith would not get on the floor, officers fired Tasers, then used pepper spray.

They then unleashed force that led to an FBI investigation and a federal lawsuit.

"It's just unfortunate it went this far," Putnam County Sheriff David Andrews said.

He watched the video with NewsChannel 5 Investigates two times.

"I've looked at this more with you than I ever have," Andrews said.

The video shows officers continued to use handheld Tasers on Smith's back while she was lying on the floor.

You then see Sergeant Jamie Hunter kick Smith.

"I wish there wasn't the kick," Sheriff Andrews said. "I wish if one stun would have done it then we would have quit."

The sheriff said he believes the Tasers his officers used were not working.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "You're saying none of the Tasers worked?"

"That's the way it appears," the sheriff answered.

Sheriff Andrews said the county sent them back to the manufacturer.

But the video seems to show the handheld Tasers emitting a shock.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates stated, "I thought they did work."

The sheriff then said, "There's no question they were functioning.  They were arching, but what they were producing -- I don't know."

Teresa Smith said the Tasers did work.

"I was running on adrenaline fighting for my life," Smith said.

She was taken to the hospital and later to a mental institution.

She filed a lawsuit claiming that the officers abused her and that they weren't trained in how to use Tasers.

Smith decided to talk to NewsChannel 5 Investigates only after James McCollum, 41, died in July, when Putnam County Sheriff's deputies tased him in his home.

Six deputies are now under investigation by the TBI.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Sheriff Andrews, "Is there proper training in your department when it comes to the use of Tasers?"

Andrews responded, "I think so."

A grand jury reviewed the case and refused to indict Sergeant Jamie Hunter.

The federal government did not file criminal charges either.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked the sheriff, "Was anyone disciplined as a result of this?"

Andrews responded, "As a result of this, no."

Two years later, the sheriff still won't say whether or not his officers used too much force.

"Was it excessive? I don't know what it took to bring her under control because I wasn't down there. Does it look excessive? Yes.  But was it in fact? I don't know,"  Andrews said.

Again, no criminal charges were filed.  

Sergeant Jamie Hunter's attorney had no additional comment.  

The county paid Smith $20,000 and admitted no wrongdoing.

Andrews said he can't comment on Smith's medical situation, but said the jail has a no-narcotics policy.

He added that county jails are now forced to deal with many types of mentally ill inmates whom they are not equipped to handle.

E-mail: bhall@newschannel5.com

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