By HEATHER TOMLINSON, CJ Staff Writer Commonwealth Journal
Allegations of excessive force against a Pulaski County sheriff’s deputy who was indicted in federal court this week have surfaced in recent years.
Deputy Stephen Molen on Thursday was indicted in federal court on two counts of violating the civil rights of two victims in incidents from October 2009 and October 2011. One of the alleged victims, D.W., or local towing service owner Danny Whitaker, filed a civil lawsuit against Molen in 2010 stemming from the Oct. 2009 incident mentioned in the federal indictment.
The lawsuit was filed in early October 2010 and was resolved and dismissed in federal court in February 2011.
Whitaker’s suit claimed that Molen had beaten Whitaker after he attempted to carry out a traffic stop on the towing service business owner. Whitaker did not pull over, but instead proceeded to his own home, where he came to a stop in the driveway and exited his vehicle.
Whitaker through the lawsuit accused Molen of punching him and kicking him during the incident — allegedly in the view of Whitaker’s wife — among other actions.
According to the complaint, Whitaker allegedly suffered from “hand, wrist, and shoulder pain; hand and wrist cuts, contusions, swelling and lacerations; rib and abdomen pain, contusions and swelling; facial pain, swelling, contusions, lacerations; and oral pain, swelling, contusion and lacerations.”
The lawsuit claimed Molen had carried out unlawful arrest, excessive force, assault and battery and cruel and unusual punishment on Whitaker.
Molen had contended, through the arrest citation detailing the incident, that Whitaker had acted aggressively toward the deputy after he came to a stop — and after Molen allegedly “clocked” Whitaker driving around 70 mph in a 55 mph speed zone and witnessed him running a stop sign.
Molen also claimed in the citation that he was forced to subdue Whitaker, and that the other man was fighting back.
Whitaker was charged with speeding, fleeing or evading police, menacing and resisting arrest in connection with that incident.
Although the lawsuit was eventually dismissed in federal court — and the details of that dismissal were never made public — Attorney Scott Foster, who represented Whitaker at one time in local court, requested a hearing in January 2011 during which a number of witnesses testified that Molen had allegedly assaulted them in the past.
Eleven witnesses took the stand during that hearing, including three Somerset Police officers — Billy Bolin, Joe Criswell and Eric Klepper — who allegedly witnessed Molen’s assault on others. A recording was even played during the hearing that allegedly showed Molen striking a victim who had already been placed on the ground during an arrest.
Former Burnside mayor Chuck Fourman also testified in the hearing and was asked to recall his arrest in Aug. 2008 after he led city and county police on a high-speed chase that began in the city limits and ended in Russell County.
Fourman stated it was after the chase ended and he was arrested when someone approached him and kicked him in the groin while he was in a prone position on the ground. Although Fourman stated he didn’t know which officer struck him, Bolin testified he saw Molen strike Fourman.
Numerous other witnesses testified during the hearing who alleged brutality on the part of Molen, but several of them, during cross-examinations, stated they had been drinking when the incidents occurred.
Molen was the target of another lawsuit, filed in 2011, that was eventually dismissed as well.
Kevin McCoy filed a lawsuit alleging that on Aug. 14, 2011, Molen rammed McCoy, who was operating a motorcycle on Ky. 70, with his cruiser.
“Molen utilized excessive force and performed an unnecessary, totally improper and potentially life-threatening ‘pit maneuver’ on McCoy, who was on his motorcycle,” the lawsuit read.
The lawsuit alleged that after McCoy was knocked to the ground, “Molen proceeded to unjustifiably assault McCoy.”
“After placing handcuffs on McCoy, with no resistance or provocation from McCoy, Molen continued to use excessive force while placing McCoy into the police cruiser, causing McCoy to suffer severe bodily injury,” the lawsuit alleged.
The lawsuit claimed McCoy had to be taken to the hospital for treatment before he was lodged in the Pulaski County Detention Center.
The lawsuit also alleged that Pulaski County Sheriff Todd Wood, Pulaski County Judge-executive Barty Bullock and fiscal court “were aware of Molen’s repeated use of excessive force as early as 2007 and they have individually and/or in a conspiracy with one another, participated or acquiesced in, contributed to, encouraged, implicitly authorized or approved the conduct ...”
After the incident, McCoy was charged with reckless driving, menacing, fleeing or evading the police, driving on a DUI-suspended license, no registration plates or receipt and failure to maintain insurance.
McCoy was later indicted for reckless driving; driving on a suspended license; driving without a registration plate; and menacing, by intentionally placing another person in reasonable apprehension of imminent physical injury.
That lawsuit was dismissed in federal court on Oct. 29. The details of that dismissal were not made available to the public, although an attorney representing the county in the case stated that the issue had been resolved.