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Former inmate sues Cocke County, claims he was 'savagely' beaten by other inmates

The lawsuit states that thousands of inmates are subjected to unsafe conditions, inmate-on-inmate violence and suffer serious injuries at the Cocke Co. Jail.

COCKE COUNTY, Tenn. — A former inmate is suing Cocke County after he was "savagely and repeatedly beaten" by several other inmates over the course of an hour, a lawsuit states. 

Steven J. Laws is suing Cocke County, former Cocke County Sheriff Armando Fontes, multiple corrections officers, multiple Quality Correctional Healthcare employees and 10 John and Jane Does, according to the lawsuit.

Laws, who was jailed on misdemeanor drug charges in the Cocke County Annex in March 2022, lost consciousness after being "beaten and stomped in his cell, dragged into the showers and beaten and kicked again, dragged back to his cell and beaten and stomped yet again," the lawsuit states. 

Laws was asleep when the attack began and the motive behind the attack is unknown. He sustained serious head and facial trauma, including a concussion and multiple jaw fractures that required emergency surgery, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit states that no corrections officer checked on Laws for 12 hours after the beating. Two corrections officers eventually saw him, and despite him asking for help, the corrections officers and QCHC nurses paid no attention and only recommended an ice pack and over-the-counter pain medicine, the filing said.  

Law's mother bailed him out of jail two days later. He went to a local ER, then to a dentist and ultimately to the University of Tennessee Medical Center where he had an emergency operation to surgically repair multiple jaw fractures and extract multiple impacted teeth, according to the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit states that since 2012, thousands of inmates have been subjected to unsafe conditions, inmate-on-inmate violence and suffered serious injuries at both the Cocke County Jail and Cocke County Annex. 

As of January 2023, the Cocke County Jail, which houses female inmates, is at 118.8% capacity. The Cocke County Annex, which houses male inmates, is at 115.9% capacity.

Both haven't passed a Tennessee Corrections Institute certification since 2017. Tennessee Department of Correction records shows both were inspected in May 2022, as well as July 2022. 

Cocke County Sheriff C.J. Ball told 10News that as of March 22, 2023, "the county had not been served with any paperwork other than what they have read on media outlets."

Ball said they cannot comment on pending litigation. 

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