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State Lawyers Accused Of 'Willful Fraud' In Inmate-Death Lawsuit

Posted at 7:01 PM, Oct 20, 2015
and last updated 2016-01-18 00:28:26-05

A newly filed motion in the wrongful death lawsuit of a mentally ill inmate claims state lawyers engaged in "willful fraud" by hiding evidence and lying to a federal judge.

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

But, on Monday, attorneys for Toll's mother filed a motion for sanctions, claiming that attorneys in the Tennessee Attorney General's Office knew about critical evidence but intentionally "buried" that evidence.

The allegations are based on a 46-page sworn statement from a former corrections officer who witnessed the death of Jason Toll.

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 resigned and wrote a resignation letter that he provided to 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 the trial, attorneys for Toll's mother never saw Amonette's resignation letter.

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

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

But Amonette's newly filed sworn statement claims he spoke to Crownover about the letter two different times.

Amonette stated that Crownover asked him why he wrote the letter because "it caused him a lot of concern."

The former corrections officer said, "The fact [that] he said he never read the letter, whew, that's not true. I mean, I don't know how else to put it. It's just untruthful."

Attorneys for Toll's mother told NewsChannel 5 Investigates the statement from Amonette proves the state lied to the court and tried to hide evidence.

"It's beyond shocking. It's absolutely disturbing. This is the type of stuff you see in movies," attorney David Weissman said.

"It saddens me to have to file a pleading like this, making these allegations because I hate to think members of my profession do things like this."

Amonette also said a state official threatened him shortly after Toll died.

The official, who was not in the AG's office, said if he "didn't shut up he would be left out in the cold."

Amonette said he took that to mean that, if he didn't keep quiet about his concerns in the Toll case, the state would not represent him and he would have to pay for his own attorney.

"I admire his courage in coming forth with this information," said attorney Jeff Roberts, who also represented Toll's mother.

"Mr. Amonette was strong-armed into following a position he didn't believe in and, in his heart, he knew was wrong," Weissman said.

Toll's mother is moving forward with plans for a second trial.

The motion for sanctions asks the judge to order the state to pay attorneys fees for the last trial because of the state's misconduct.

The Tennessee Attorney General's Office released the following statement in response to NewsChannel 5's request for comment:

"Three months ago, the plaintiffs filed a similar motion for sanctions and, of course, that motion was withdrawn. As our office did previously, we will respond in court proceedings."