CATLETTSBURG The former Boyd County Detention Center sergeant at the center of a manslaughter case took the stand Tuesday, telling the jury he couldn’t do anything to stop his deputies.
The testimony marks the seventh day of trial of 31-year-old Brad Roberts, who is facing one count of first-degree manslaughter and 16 counts of first-degree criminal abuse.
Roberts is accused of participating in the death of 40-year-old Michael Moore, an inmate booked at the Boyd Detention Center on a public intoxication charge on Nov. 27, 2018. Roberts, who was the supervisor of the night shift, oversaw four other deputy jailers that night — all were charged.
Moore died of blunt force trauma to the torso on Nov. 29, 2018. All of the abuse alleged in the case was on the night of Nov. 27-Nov. 28, 2018.
His trial is the first of four — Alicia Beller, a former jailer’s deputy, turned state’s evidence and testified against her old boss on Friday.
At the top of the day, Boyd County Commonwealth Attorney Rhonda Copley rested her case — Kentucky State Police Detective Jeff Kelley acted as the case in chief for the state on Monday. Defense Attorney Michael Curtis called his client to the stand — the defendant provided three hours of direct testimony under the questioning of the grizzled old attorney.
Curtis reviewed each instance charged in the indictment, using incident reports written by Roberts and former Boyd County deputy Zachary Messer as well as video footage to allow his client to give his version of events.
Roberts, who was hired in 2016, said he received minimal training in the use of force and writing incident reports. He said about two to three months prior to the incident, he had been promoted to sergeant and received no additional training for it.
Much of the abuse seen in the video footage taken from the Boyd County jail depicts Messer — who is 6-foot-4 and about 400 pounds — slamming Moore against the wall, performing a leg sweep on the handcuffed man, smashing his body on the concrete floor and throwing him into a chair.
Curtis asked his client if he gave orders to Messer to treat Moore that way — Roberts said he did not. He said the incidents happened so fast, he did not have time to react. Roberts testified he did speak with Messer briefly about being too rough with the suspect.
When asked why he didn’t correct Messer’s reports — which omitted much of the physical force — Roberts said he was not trained to review incident reports.
Roberts further stated when Messer slung Moore into a restraint chair, he did not get a good view of it. He said from his angle, it appeared Moore was trying to run out of a door, Messer stopped him and swung him back.
“The chair was right there,” Roberts said. “I thought it was an accident.”
In that same footage, Moore was led to the bathroom — it’s unclear what happened from the footage, but at some point Moore ended up on the floor. The Commonwealth has argued Messer and Griffith slammed Moore into the commode.
Roberts — who told Kelley in his interview he heard a sound like a head hitting a wall — said he could not see what happened because Messer stood in the way.
Another accusation against Roberts is he stepped on Moore’s foot to hold him still in a restraint chair. In both instances, Roberts testified he stepped on Moore’s pants leg, not his foot. He said when Kelley first showed him the footage, he agreed he had stepped on the inmate’s foot.
However, review on a bigger screen showed it was the pants leg. While one video was a bit unclear, the other appeared to show when Roberts released the foot an empty pants leg.
The issue of sternum rubs, a practice of rubbing one’s knuckles on an unresponsive person’s chest plate, was also brought up. As previously testified to by various first responders at the trial, the practice is painful and has gone out of widespread use about 10 years ago.
Roberts said the sternum rubs — which he and Messer can be seen on video doing to Moore — was something he picked up on the job from other deputies. He demonstrated on Curtis, stating he does not apply much pressure when doing so.
After Judge George Davis called a lunch break, Copley initiated a 45-minute cross-examination of Roberts.
Copley hammered on Roberts’ prior testimony, stating he had received training and directed deputies to handle other inmates throughout the night, which is indicative of a commanding officer. She attacked Roberts’ claim that he did not see certain aspects of the video until he saw it on a bigger screen.
Pointing at the television set inside the court — a 60-plus-inch device — Copley said she viewed the same footage at KSP Post 14 on a similar-sized screen.
“The other troopers were watching it on the TV, but I was watching it on Detective Kelley’s laptop,” Roberts replied.
Copley repeatedly asked Roberts why he did not render aid to Moore after undergoing the alleged assaults dished out by Messer.
“Don’t you have a duty to protect your inmates?” she asked.
Copley also noted footage where deputies — including Roberts — appear to be laughing.
“What’s so funny?” Copley asked.
Focusing on the chair/bathroom footage, Copley asked why Roberts didn’t ask Moore if he was OK after ending up on the floor twice in the span of minutes. Roberts replied he didn’t believe Moore was in need of medical attention.
She asked him if he called a superior regarding Messer’s behavior –—Roberts said he did call then-Lt. Gus Guzman.
“You called him because you wanted to keep him in the chair longer than two hours, didn’t you?” Copley said. “Let’s call it what it is — he was a pain to you. He was aggravating you guys all night.”
After a few more minutes of questioning by both attorneys, the defense rested its case.
Davis called for the trial to reconvene at 8:30 a.m Wednesday for closing statements. After that, it will be in the hands of a Boyd County jury to decide.
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