Former corrections officer pleads guilty in excessive force case

A former North Las Vegas corrections officer avoided standing trial Monday on felony charges in a five-year-old case of excessive force when he pleaded guilty to a lesser misdemeanor charge.

Stuart Barlow Johnson, 47, faced up to five years in prison if convicted of the felony charges stemming from his 2008 confrontation with a handcuffed inmate at the now-closed North Las Vegas Detention Center.

Instead, as part of a deal struck over the weekend, federal prosecutors will recommend probation at his March 17 sentencing before U.S. District Judge James Mahan.

Johnson was indicted in April on charges of deprivation of rights under color of law and falsifying a document after the jailhouse confrontation. Those charges were dropped, and Johnson pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor version of the deprivation of rights charge.

Both Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Dickinson and Johnson’s defense lawyer, Thomas Pitaro, declined comment outside the courtroom Monday.

The case focused on Johnson’s Nov. 29, 2008, altercation with Doyle Hedger, a federal inmate at the detention center.

In an April 14 story, the Review-Journal disclosed the civil rights investigation and reported that it had led to a dispute between the Justice Department and the North Las Vegas Police Department, which fought the surrender of subpoenaed records.

Hedger filed a civil rights lawsuit in 2010 alleging Johnson body slammed him to the concrete floor while he was handcuffed, causing serious head lacerations. Johnson, North Las Vegas and the detention center all were named as defendants.

At the time of the confrontation, which was captured on jailhouse video, Hedger was in federal custody after his arrest for violating the terms of supervised release on a felony firearms conviction.

The North Las Vegas Detention Center had a contract with the U.S. Marshals Service to house prisoners facing federal charges. It shut its doors in July 2012 in a city cost-cutting move.

Several months after filing his lawsuit, Hedger agreed to settle his claims with North Las Vegas for just under $50,000. Hedger, who has a lengthy criminal history, is serving time on drug charges in the Nevada prison system.

The FBI, U.S. attorney’s office and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in Washington later launched the criminal investigation.

The federal indictment alleged Johnson falsified an official incident report of the altercation by “omitting that he forcibly threw (Hedger) to the floor.”

Johnson falsely claimed that Hedger “went limp and fell backward” as the officer put his arm on him to get him to sit down, according to the indictment.

Johnson and his lawyers contended he conducted himself in a lawful manner in dealing with an agitated inmate who was not complying with an order.

The North Las Vegas Police Department fired Johnson in March 2009. More than a year later, an arbitrator overturned the dismissal, and in September 2010, a district judge denied the city’s bid to vacate the arbitrator’s decision.

Johnson was reinstated in 2010 and continued to work at the detention center until he was laid off in July when the facility closed.

The North Las Vegas city attorney’s office criticized the Justice Department investigation in court papers seeking to quash grand jury subpoenas for internal police department documents.

Contact reporter Jeff German at or 702-380-8135. Follow him on Twitter @JGermanRJ.

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