Former Kay County jailers accused of assaulting an inmate go on trial

April 28, 2021 | Courts


NEWKIRK — One of the two former Kay County jailers accused of assaulting an inmate at the county jail on Sept. 26, 2018, testified today that he was doing what a leader must do when short staffed.

Danial Vandaveer, 32, and his brother Zane Jadon Dewayne Vandaveer, 23, are charged with misdemeanor counts of assault and battery.

Testimony in their joint jury trial began this week and concluded today with the case set to go to the jury this afternoon. The pair are accused of assaulting inmate Christopher Branham while he was confined in a restraint chair.

Zane Jadon Dewayne Vandaveer

Zane is accused of punching Branham at least 14 times and Danial is accused of head butting Branham. The pair claim Branham spit and attempted to bite them and that he is Hepatitis C positive. (see story)

Danial testified that the night of the incident, six staff members were on shift until jail superiors came and demoted and sent home a member of the staff, leaving his shift with inexperienced members and short staffed.

He said the disturbance with Branham began around 1 a.m. after the inmate claimed he feared for his life. Daniel said because of the disturbance, Branham needed to be moved from the juvenile pod, where he was housed for his safety, to a holding cell.

Danial said he knew who Branham was and that he never had a problem with him in the past. “There was one night when I came in and he had attempted to hang himself,” said Danial. After breaking down in tears, Danial told the court that he knew someone who had shot himself. “Suicide is not something you need to do. I told Branham that it is not worth it and that you can turn around and change. I tried to tell all of the inmates that.”

Danial Alen Vandaveer

Danial told the court about a site check he was given during which he an inmate allegedly stated he had caught Hepatitis C. Before he finished his statement, District Attorney Brian Hermanson objected to the statement as hearsay. Danial said it was not hearsay and Judge Jennifer Brock stopped the exchange.

Defense attorney Scott Loftis asked Danial if it was well known throughout the jail that Branham was positive for Hepatitis C and Danial replied, “Yes.”

Earlier, Branham testified that he didn’t know he had it.

Danial testified that when the disturbance with Branham begin he called a list of superiors who never returned his call. “Chuck Crepple finally called back,” said Danial.

Daniel, now a truck driver in Tuttle, said that assaults are common in the jail. “They say it doesn’t happen but it does. Inmates assaulting guards constantly in that facility.” He told the court that he and other staff members, including his brother, struggled to get Branham to the restraint chair and that the chair had a faulty arm strap. “The strap gave us issues which resulted in being spit on an extra two times. We should have had more officers.”

“Did it cross your mind to leave and never come back,” asked Loftis.

“It did but I could not leave my shift,” said Danial. “I have been spit in the mouth by an another inmate and was pulled away from that situation. I know what it feels like to want to go further. No one knows what they would do until put in that situation.”

Hermanson cross examined Danial.

“Did you press charges on the inmate who spit in your mouth,” asked Hermanson. Danial said he made a report and gave it to Matt Ware, who at the time was employed at the jail.

Hermanson asked Danial if he learned a lesson that day when his coworkers pulled him away from the inmate who spit in his mouth.Danial became argumentative and Judge Brock stopped the exchange.

Hermanson said it was a yes or no answer. “Yes I learned a lesson,” replied Danial.

Hermanson played the video footage of the incident between Branham and the jailers for the jury.

He stopped the video and noted that in one part, Zane was shown staying away from Branham. “Is that what he is taught,” asked Hermanson. “He is also talking to him and trying to calm him down,” replied Danial.

Hermanson asked Danial why he didn’t place a spit guard on Branham after he was restrained in the chair. Danial became argumentative and Judge Brock stopped the exchange.

“Can he spit on you with a spit guard on,” asked Hermanson. “Did you pay attention, replied Danial. “The guard has small holes.” Judge Brock again warned Danial.

“You never got fully bit,” said Hermanson. “No, replied Danial.” Hermanson noted that in the video, Danial had his long sleeve shirt rolled up and that the strap of the restraint chair worked. Danial said another officer got the strap to work.

“Here you are looking in his face,” said Hermanson. “He had just spit in my beard,” said Danial.

Hermanson asked Danial why he didn’t ask another guard who was nearby to get a spit mask. Danial said the guard was new and had no training.

“You made the decision to head butt him,” said Hermanson. “I hit him with my head and shoulder to the side,” said Danial. “You wiped spit on his face,” said Hermanson. “Would it have been better to wipe it on my own face,” replied Danial.

Hermanson asked if it was appropriate that Zane is shown hitting Branham 14 times. “It is not what I would have done,” said Danial. “ I can’t tell you what I would have done.”

“Did you get Hep C,” asked Hermanson. “No,” replied Danial.

Loftis asked about the other inmate who spit in Danial’s mouth.

“Were charges filed,” asked Loftis. “No,” replied Danial.

An exchange between Loftis, Hermanson and Danial broke out and Judge Brock asked for order.

“Now that you have hindsight like Mr. Hermanson would you have done things differently,” asked Loftis. “Yes,” replied Danial. “I have seen the video too many times.”

Hermanson asked Danial the name of the inmate who spit in his mouth. Danial said it was John King.

After a recess, Hermanson called assistant district attorney Shawna Taylor to the stand as a rebuttal witness. Taylor told the court that John Avin King, 50, Commerce, Georgia, was charged on Feb. 12, 2018 with a misdemeanor count of public intoxication. She said the charge was requested by Fort Oakland police after King became intoxicated and disruptive at the bar located in the Tonkawa Casino. She said the district attorney’s office never received any documents from the jail indicating King assaulted a guard by spitting. Hermanson asked her how many cases have been filed on defendants accused of spitting on police officers and jailers. Taylor said over 30.

Loftis presented a document to Taylor and asked if it was a report from the jail. “I don’t see a lot of reports from the jail,” said Taylor. “But it appears to be one.”

Loftis asked if she knew who Matt Ware was. Taylor said she has heard of him but doesn’t know him.

Loftis referenced Ware as a subject who worked at the jail when an investigation was conducted by the Washington County District Attorney Kevin Buchanan. (see story)

“Do you know why this didn’t make it to the district attorney’s office,” asked Loftis. “I don’t know if it was presented to the office but it is not a probable cause affidavit,” said Taylor. “You can’t refute that this happened,” asked Loftis. “No,” replied Taylor.

Hermanson asked Taylor if charges can be filed without a probable cause affidavit to which Taylor replied no.

Loftis called Danial back to the stand and gave him a copy of the report. Danial testified that he typed the report and took it to the D.A. box in front of the jail. He said he does not know what a probable cause affidavit is and that he believes those CLEET certified, which he was not, did the probable cause documents.

Hermanson asked Danial if he understood that his report was not a request for charges. “I believe it was a request for charges,” replied Danial. “I’m not aware of the procedures. I’m not a lawyer. I’m a truck driver.” The case is set to go to the jury after closing arguments.