Putnam County sheriff's deputy federally charged; accused of excessive force

PUTNAM COUNTY, Ind. - A west-central Indiana sheriff's deputy is in the spotlight after several people lodged federal civil rights violations against him, claiming he went over the line with violence during their arrests.

U.S. Attorney Joseph Hogsett and Robert A. Jones (special agent in charge of FBI-Indianapolis) announced Monday that Putnam County sheriff's deputy Terry "TJ" Smith allegedly beat several people in the custody of the sheriff's office.

He's accused of using excessive force on four different occasions. The allegations include:

• Using a stun gun (Taser) against an individual after that individual had already been restrained
• Punching an individual in the face after restraint
• Throwing an individual on the ground after the individual had been handcuffed, driving a knee into the person’s back while secured, remaining handcuffed and prone on the ground
• Throwing a female to the floor and forcing her outside of a truck stop, placing her face down into lava rocks in below-freezing temperatures without proper clothing and holding her down for an extended period of time

"Our message has been consistent over the last year, but bears repeating today: It doesn't matter to me what your politics are or what position you hold in your community," Hogsett said. "If you violate the public trust, our Public Integrity Working Group will find you, will investigate you and the U.S. Attorney's Office will then prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law." 

The indictment names the following locations as places where the assaults took place:

• Near Moore’s Bar in Greencastle
• On West Stardust Road in Cloverdale
• At the Lazy Acres Trailer Park in Green Castle
• At the Cloverdale Truck Stop

Officials said Smith has been charged with four counts of federal civil rights violations.

The attorneys prosecuting the case for the government said Smith could be sentenced to up to 10 years in federal prison for each count, and could also face significant fines and federal supervision for up to 3 years once he has served his prison term.

Smith's attorney, John Tompkins, said his client is not guilty.

"We maintain that he did not use excessive force at any time," Tompkins said.

Tompkins said a hearing was scheduled for his client for 11 a.m. Thursday in Terre Haute, Ind., and Tompkins will request Smith's release from custody.

The Putnam County Sheriff's Department said Smith has been with the department since July 2010, and he has since been suspended with pay.

Hogsett urged anyone with information relating to this type of activity to always contact the U.S. Attorney's Office public corruption hotline at 317-229-2443.

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