Prison guard on trial for inmate assault in Warren County

Prosecutors said Monday during the first day of a Warren County trial that a prison guard went too far when he struck an inmate with his baton, breaking the prisoner’s jaw.

John B. Hinkle, 52, a guard at Lebanon Correctional Institution is charged with felonious assault for the September 2018 attack on an inmate, a second-degree felony.

Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell called it possibly the first and “by far the most egregious” guard assault his office had handled since he took office more than eight years ago.

Prison officials and the alleged victim, Malcolm Cox, 24 — in prison for felonious ssault and having weapons under disability — testified during the first day of the trial in Warren County Common Pleas Court.

On Sept. 16, 2018, Hinkle allegedly broke an inmate’s jaw with a strike from his baton, although the inmate posed no threat to him or anyone else at prison, according to prosecutors.

“Everybody is equal under the law. Everybody is subject to it. Everyone is protected by it,” Assistant County Prosecutor Derek Faulkner said in his opening statement.

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On Monday, Hinkle’s lawyer, Jon Paul Rion, began making his case that Hinkle was responding to prevent a prison riot. The struggle in the hall lasted about one minute.

The hall struggle occurred after a fight between gangs at the prison in the recreation yard involving seven inmates, according to testimony.

“Order has to be maintained. There was some concern that it was getting way out of control,” Rion said.

Pepper spray was used to control the inmates during the yard fight, according to testimony.

Hinkle was among guards responding after a group of handcuffed inmates began kicking and spitting on each other in the prison hall. He came out of an office as the other guards struggled with the seven inmates in the hall.

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Cox testified that his jaw was wired shut until February as a result of the alleged assault.

Hinkle was placed on leave and has remained free, while awaiting trial in Judge Timothy Tepe’s court. He was fired on Nov. 1, according to prison officials.

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

Brain McWhorter, a state prison official involved in training guards, said swinging the baton as Hinkle did also gave inmates a chance to grab it from him.

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The fight in the yard was only part of the disturbance at the prison on Sept. 16, 2018, according to testimony Monday.

Ed Voorhies, deputy director for the state prison system, said the incident preceding Hinkler hitting Cox did not meet guidelines for use of deadly force.

Hinkle was shown in a surveillance video using the unauthorized motion to hit Cox from behind. Hinkle then knelt on Cox’s head as blood pooled underneath him.

The prison outside Lebanon has been the site of a number of violent incidents, some involving guards attacked by inmates.

The trial will continue today.

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