Ex-prison guard found guilty of felonious assault on inmate

A former guard at Lebanon Correctional Institution was found guilty Tuesday of two counts of felonious assault on an inmate.

John B. Hinkle, 52, was handcuffed and taken to the Warren County Jail after the jury verdicts were read by Judge Timothy Tepe.

Hinkle fractured inmate Malcolm Cox’s jaw and left a hole in his mouth after the assault in a hall of the prison — one of two side-by-side in Warren County — after a fight between rival gangs in September 2018.

During closings, Assistant County Prosecutor Steven Knippen urged the jury to convict Hinkle for excessive use of deadly force, insisting the fight was under control when he hit Cox.

“At no point, did they come close to losing control of the institution,” Knippen said. “Officer Hinkle went way too far.”

Knippen told the jury their verdict would be a statement about the proper standard for treatment of prisoners.

“Where do we as a society draw the line?” he asked.

Hinkle was working as a corrections officer at the prison as other guards struggled to control a group of seven handcuffed inmates brought into the prison after the fight in the recreation yard, involving more than 20 inmates, according to testimony.

At the time of Hinkle’s indictment, Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell called it possibly the first and “by far the most egregious” guard-on-inmate assault his office had handled since he took office more than eight years ago.

While prison officials testified for prosecutors against Hinkle, guards, including one called by prosecutors, offered support for Hinkle’s defense that he was acting to prevent a near riot.

“They were fighting all over the institution,” Officer Robert Cole testified Monday.

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A surveillance video played during the two-day trail showed Cox, 24, stand up and move behind the guards and handcuffed inmates clustered along a wall in the prison.

Cox moved out of the way of fighting inmates, knelt behind the guards and inmates and spit toward the inmates, after Hinkle had come out of an office.

The video then showed Hinkle turn from the other inmates and guards toward the handcuffed Cox and strike him from behind in the head with his P-24, a baton issued to correction officers.

Cox’s jaw was broken and a hole left in his mouth by the blow, made with a two-handed tomahawk motion. Cox, in prison for felonious assault and having weapons under disability, is scheduled for release in 2029.

Hinkle faced two counts of felonious assault on an inmate, a second-degree felony.

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On Tuesday, the jury began deliberating at 1 p.m., after Hinkle’s lawyer, Jon Paul Rion, called two guards, but decided against putting Hinkle on the stand.

Like Cole, the two guards called by the defense testified that the yard fight had sparked other disturbances in the prison.

Officer Juan Brown said the “riotous” day was unmatched in his 19 years at the prison, except for two other near riots, once over cookies in 2003. “It was crazy,” Brown said.

Assistant County Prosecutor Derek Faulkner questioned Brown about using P-24, as Hinkle did with a two-handed “tomahawk” motion.

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“In a riotous situation, we are allowed to use anything,” Brown testified.

The struggle in the hall lasted about one minute.

Hinkle was placed on leave and had remained free, while awaiting trial. He was fired on Nov. 1, according to prison officials.

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On Monday, prison officials and Cox testified.

Prosecutors and their witnesses emphasized that guards were not trained or authorized to swing their batons with a two-handed tomahawk swing at an inmate’s head.

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The jury deliberated for two hours.

Tepe ordered a presentence investigation and indicated sentencing would be in about 45 days.

Hinkle faces up to eight years in prison, but could be sentenced to probation.

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