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Questions Of 'Cover-Up' Lead To Calls For New Trial

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Posted at 6:00 PM, Nov 18, 2014
and last updated 2015-09-07 14:24:44-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A NewsChannel 5 investigation into the death of a mentally ill inmate at Riverbend has lawyers asking if the state hid evidence.

Charles Jason Toll died four years ago after corrections officers forced him from his cell.

Toll's mother, Jane Luna, sued the officers for violating Toll's civil rights.

But last year, a federal jury found that officers did nothing wrong.

This year, attorneys for Toll's mother asked the judge for a new trial after they saw a one page resignation letter written by one of the corrections officers who witnessed Toll's death.

Luna's attorneys claimed they never saw the letter, despite asking for the officer's personnel file.

Our investigation discovered the resignation letter was longer than one page.

Attorneys for Toll's mother have now updated their request for a new trial with the information we uncovered.

The new evidence involves documentation attached to the resignation letter written by former corrections officer William Amonette.

Amonette's job was to record the cell extraction that led to Toll's death.

The video reveals that Toll said over and over that he could not breathe.

But guards took him to an unlit prison yard and, according to the autopsy report, pressed their shields on his back, suffocating him.

Six months after Toll died, Officer Amonette resigned and wrote a resignation letter in which he criticized the internal affairs investigation of Toll's death.

He also claimed he was asked to falsify training records.

Attorneys for Toll's mother saw a one page version of the resignation letter after the trial ended, and immediately asked the judge for a new trial.

The Attorney General's Office admitted in a court filing in September that it did not provide the letter to attorneys before the trial.

The AG's office said it did not intentionally withhold the letter, and if attorneys had specifically asked for the letter they would have provided it.

Our investigation discovered there were actually five pages to the resignation letter.

After the trial, both Toll's mother and NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked the Department of Corrections for a copy of the letter.

The department provided both a one page version that appeared altered.

It was different from a copy we later obtained from the Department of Human Resources, which also keeps a personnel file for each state employee.

Amonette's handwritten notation "1 of 5" was missing from the bottom of the Department of Corrections' version.

The "1 of 5" notation indicated Amonette attached training records and a time card to his resignation letter -- something attorneys have never seen.

"You have discovered not only was there a resignation letter, but there were pages attached to it," attorney Jeff Roberts said.

"This is in keeping with our theory there has been at least some indication there was a cover-up here," attorney David Weissman said.

Roberts and Weissman represented Toll's mother and believe the trial would have been different if jurors had seen the resignation letter and the documentation that was attached.

"Not only does it suggest that the he did not receive training but he suggests he was asked to falsify time cards," Roberts said.

"One of the elements of our lawsuit was failure to train," Weissman said.

Four years after Toll's death the questions around the case continue.

Attorneys claim the jury that decided officers did nothing wrong did not have all the information they needed.

"Frankly it's not fair to a jury to be denied access to all the information," Weissman said.

William Amonette declined to comment.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Correction said she did not know why the department's legal team left off a portion of Amonette's resignation letter before it was provided to us and Toll's mother.

The Attorney General's Office filed a response in federal court saying the judge should deny the motion for a new trial.

They said attorneys for Toll's mother should have known about the letter before the trial began because it was mentioned in a deposition.

The AG's office said there is no clear and convincing evidence that a party in the case committed fraud or misconduct.