A federal grand jury Tuesday indicted a former corrections officer in what authorities say was a case of excessive use of force more than four years ago at the now-closed North Las Vegas Detention Center.
Stuart Barlow Johnson, 47, was indicted on one count of violating a handcuffed inmate’s civil rights and one count of falsifying a document to cover up the assault, according to the Justice Department in Washington.
He faces a May 3 arraignment on the two charges, which together draw up to 30 years in prison, before U.S. Magistrate Judge George Foley Jr.
The indictment, returned in Las Vegas, focuses on Johnson’s Nov. 29, 2008, confrontation 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 altercation, 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 alleges 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’s lawyer, Jeffery Allen, criticized the indictment Tuesday.
“I’m surprised and disgusted that the Department of Justice would waste my taxpayer dollars on trying to put a good man who was just doing his job behind bars,” said Allen, general counsel for the North Las Vegas Police Officers Association.
Allen earlier told the Review-Journal that it was “preposterous” to think Johnson used excessive force. Johnson conducted himself in a lawful manner in dealing with an agitated inmate who was not complying with an order, Allen said.
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.
“He was found to have done absolutely nothing wrong by an independent arbitrator and a district judge,” Allen said.
Johnson was reinstated in 2010 and continued to work at the detention center until he was laid off in July when the facility closed.
Last month, 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.
“The United States is simply attempting to conduct a fishing expedition to see what they might uncover,” Deputy City Attorney Claudia Aguayo wrote. “Such an attempt cannot be permitted.”
Aguayo said the department became concerned after it received a series of grand jury subpoenas from the FBI this year requesting internal investigative reports and documents prosecutors contended were relevant to the civil rights investigation.
Among the subpoenaed documents was a “confidential police procedure manual” the department feared would get into the hands of criminals.
“This case is not as simple as a grand jury subpoenaing an alleged law-breaker,” Aguayo wrote. “Rather, it reflects a tension between two law enforcement interests.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge George Foley, Jr. held a closed-door hearing on the dispute earlier this month. It is not known whether it was resolved.