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State Attorney Denies Hiding Evidence In Inmate Death Case

Posted at 6:12 PM, Dec 11, 2015

The Tennessee Attorney General's Office is defending one of its attorneys accused of "willful fraud" and lying to a federal judge in the wrongful death lawsuit of an inmate at Riverbend.

Veteran attorney Arthur Crownover filed an affidavit in federal court on Thursday which stated he has always told the truth to the court and that he did not intentionally withhold documents.

A federal judge has already ordered a new trial in the death of inmate Charles Jason Toll after new evidence surfaced in the case.

In October, attorneys for Toll's mother filed a motion for sanctions, claiming that Crownover knew about the critical evidence but intentionally "buried" that evidence.

Thursday, the Attorney General's Office said "Crownover has displayed nothing but honesty and ethical behavior in his decades of practice." The statement also insisted that Crownover "did not engage in any willful or bad faith conduct" in the Toll case.

The allegations against Crownover have been based on a 46-page sworn statement from a former corrections officer who witnessed Toll's death.

William Amonette worked as a corrections officer at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in 2010.

He was ordered to videotape officers as they forcibly removed Toll from his cell.

But the cell extraction went wrong, and Toll died after saying he could not breath numerous times while officers carried him face down to an unlit prison yard.

Months after Toll's death, Officer Amonette wrote a resignation letter that he provided the state.

In the resignation letter, he criticized the state's investigation into Toll's death and said the state ordered officers to falsify training records.

Despite asking for Amonette's personnel file and other relevant documents before trial, attorneys for Toll's mother never saw Amonette's resignation letter.

A jury ruled officers did nothing wrong, but they never saw that letter.

While arguing against a new trial, state attorneys told the judge they did not know why the resignation letter was not in Amonette's personnel file.

Crownover swore to a federal judge that he "did not recall the resignation letter."

But in Amonette's sworn statement filed in October, he claimed he spoke to Crownover two different times about the letter, and Crownover said it "caused him a lot of concern."

In the state's comprehensive response filed Thursday, the Attorney General's Office argued that Amonette's statement should be thrown out because it was taken without the chance for the state to cross examine him.

Crownover stated in an affidavit that he was telling the truth when he told a judge that he didn't remember the letter, and he denied that he intentionally withheld it.

Crownover was not sure why the letter was never turned over to attorneys for Toll's mother.

A judge will now review the filings and either order a hearing on the matter or make a ruling about whether to impose sanctions.

The second civil trial in the Toll case has continued to move forward.

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