"It's (expletive) over, son."
For two hours, authorities say, that message would be pounded into Lester Eugene Siler's head and body, reinforced with the barrel of a gun and echoed in threats of electrocution.
Handcuffed and surrounded, Siler was now a prisoner of the war on drugs in Campbell County.
Seven months later, five former Campbell County Sheriff's Department lawmen are poised to plead guilty to federal charges they conspired to violate Siler's civil rights by beating, threatening and torturing him.
Named in informations drafted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Atchley Jr. and filed last week in U.S. District Court are David Webber, 40; Samuel R. Franklin, 42; Joshua Monday, 24; Shayne Green, 35; and William Carroll, 26.
In those documents, Atchley details a plot by the former lawmen to force Siler to put his signature on a form they could use in court as proof the convicted drug dealer agreed to let them search his home in the White Oak community in search of drugs and money.
Atchley lists in the documents disturbing examples of the lengths he alleges these former lawmen were willing to go: threats to electrocute Siler, drown him and break his fingers, beatings and gunplay.
But as shocking as those allegations are, they pale in comparison to the bone-chilling account of Siler's ordeal captured on a secret recording and laid out in a 59-page FBI transcript.
On these pages, it is the ex-officers' own words that tell the tale of a drug war where the rules of engagement are written in Siler's blood.
"We're going to take every dime you have today and if we don't walk out of here with every piece of dope you got and every dime you got, you're (expletive) ass is not going to make it to the jail," Webber warned in the transcript.
Waging The Drug War
Waging war against the illegal drug trade is no mere cliche in Campbell County. It is a mission trumpeted from the office of this county's top lawman - Sheriff Ron McClellan - and carried out by his troops on an almost daily basis.
Hardly a week goes by without a press release from McClellan's office detailing the latest raid, the fruits of the newest undercover operation or the next roundup of drug purveyors. Since taking office, McClellan has invested both money and manpower in the fight. Drug dealers would find no safe haven in this hilly, rural enclave, not even on its waterways. McClellan once insisted on announcing the acquisition of a boat for use in the drug battle.
Couriers entering McClellan's war zone via Interstate 75 have landed in his jail cells, their drug stashes seized and their cash forfeited. McClellan's agency has been so successful at nabbing drug traffickers on the interstate that it has been featured on a nationally syndicated police reality show. The agency boasts some of the largest cash seizures in the state and was once forced to borrow money-counting machines from local banks to tally up the take.
Webber was at the helm of the agency's drug-fighting team. He came to the agency in 1997, bringing with him credentials from his work as a Florida lawman.
Franklin's role in the drug war focused less on supply and more on demand. He was the agency's D.A.R.E. officer, tasked with teaching children to resist drugs' temptation. Joining the department in 1987, he had risen through the ranks to become one of the agency's top detectives, specializing in sex crimes and child abuse cases.
Monday was a rookie still waiting for a slot at the state's law enforcement training academy to open up so he could earn official certification. Green was more accustomed to battling fires than crime. He was chief of the Jacksboro Fire Department but worked part-time for the Sheriff's Department as a process server. Carroll worked full-time serving warrants and other legal documents. He occasionally transported prisoners. Like Monday, neither he nor Green was a state-certified deputy.
It was this team of five who showed up at Siler's home on July 8, 2004. They arrived in unmarked vehicles, dressed in plainclothes. But they were cloaked with the authority to serve Siler with a warrant for his arrest. Siler, the document alleged, had been breaking the rules set for him a year ago by a Campbell County judge.
No Stranger To The Law
Siler, 42, had run afoul of law enforcement in Campbell County before. Illiterate, his trade was hawking drugs, mostly prescription painkillers like oxycodone. His home was his pharmaceutical storefront.
In July 2003, Siler admitted in a Campbell County courtroom that he sold drugs on 10 different occasions within 1,000 feet of a school. He was judged guilty, sentenced and sent home, ordered to spend the next 11 years abiding by the law and the terms of his probation.
The FBI transcript also suggests Siler had cut a deal, promising to join the Campbell County Sheriff's Department's war on drugs as an informant.
Before long, though, Siler was back in hot water. A probation officer contended Siler had skipped out on required visits to the probation office and was smoking marijuana. In the FBI transcript, the deputies who showed up on his doorstep claimed neighbors were complaining that Siler was back in the drug business, a steady stream of customers trekking in and out of his home.
"You ain't done nothing but sold dope," Webber tells Siler.
It's not clear if these former lawmen were on official business. Webber claims in the transcript that no one else in authority knew they were there. It's also not clear if their goal was a drug arrest or a shakedown of a drug dealer.
What is clear from the transcript is that these lawmen would stop at nothing to achieve it.
"We'll have to call a (expletive) ambulance to haul your ass out of here," Webber taunts in the transcript.
It is also apparent from the transcript that the former deputies were confident they could carry out a violent attack on Siler with no fear of reprisals. After all, it would be his word against theirs. They were Campbell County's finest. Siler was a drug dealer.
"Eugene, let me tell you how this is gonna work, OK?" Webber said in the transcript. "We got here and guess what you did? You ran out the back door. We chased you, OK? You fought with us, OK? We end up fighting with you. You 'bout whupped all our asses, so we had to fight back, OK?"
But neither Siler nor these deputies knew that Siler's wife had a secret weapon that would produce evidence against the five lawmen so strong that McClellan would fire them, a state grand jury would indict four of them and the FBI would come after all of them.
Roll The Tape
It begins with Jenny Siler's sigh. Her husband is in trouble again.
With lawmen at her door, Jenny Siler turns on a tape recorder in her kitchen and sighs as she heads to the door to greet them. The recorder would continue to roll long after the lawmen send away Jenny Siler, 27, and her 8-year-old, leaving them alone with Eugene Siler.
It would produce a recording that spanned 40 to 45 minutes of what authorities contend was a two-hour ordeal.
The FBI transcript of the recording indicates that it not only captured what the officers said but what they did. It is replete with references to sounds of Siler being slapped and struck. It details Siler's moans, his pleas, his piercing screams.
The lawmen indicate in the transcript that Siler had fled out the door when they arrived. They've caught him and handcuffed him. He is brought into the house and placed in a chair, his hands cuffed behind his back.
He is already moaning.
Webber is heard first, telling Siler his "dope dealing's over." Franklin chimes in, telling Siler the lawmen are shutting down his drug business. Monday speaks next.
"It's (expletive) over, son," Monday says.
The beating begins then.
There is no way to tell from the transcript how long the first assault lasts. At some point, Franklin instructs Carroll to hold off.
"Wait a minute, Will, before you start," Franklin says.
"10-4," Carroll responds.
Franklin then speaks to Siler, saying, "I tell you what we're gonna do. Let me tell you what we're gonna do. We're gonna put them handcuffs in front of ya. Cut you a little slack. But if don't start operating (sic), we're gonna put the (expletive) behind your back, and I'm gonna take this slapjack, and I'm gonna start working that head over, you understand?"
The lawmen demand information from Siler, why he hasn't been in touch with them, who supplies him drugs and where he has stashed his cash. Webber reminds Siler that he is alone and outnumbered.
"There's nobody knows we're (expletive) here," Webber says. "We're doing this on our own."
The transcript indicates that Webber produces a form that, once signed, will state that Siler gave his consent for the officers to search his home. Siler apparently refuses to sign it. The beating resumes.
Moaning, Siler apparently tries to say something to the lawmen, but Webber is not in the mood for conversation.
"You're not (expletive) listening," Webber says. "You hear what I told you? I told you not to be talking. ? This (expletive) right here, he loves seeing blood. He loves it. He loves seeing blood. You're talking too much. ? He loves (expletive) seeing blood. He'll beat your ass and lick it off of you."
Franklin orders another officer to remove Siler's handcuffs so he can sign. Siler, who cannot read or write, asks one of them to read it to him.
"Just sign it," Monday orders Siler.
"Git (sic) up," Monday responds. "Git (sic) up. I said get the (expletive) up."
Beating sounds follow.
"Now git (sic) up, (expletive) it," Monday says.
Siler responds, "Oh, alright."
"No, git (sic) the (expletive) up," Monday says again.
"Let me ask David (Webber) something first," Siler pleads.
"Look, you sign this (expletive) or I'm gonna hit you again," Monday says. "One. Two."
Slaps and blows are again documented on the transcript, with Monday continuing to order Siler to sign.
By now, Siler is crying.
Threats come next. The lawmen tell Siler they will jail his wife and have his children taken away from him. The transcript details more beating sounds, more moaning from Siler, who repeatedly asks to talk to Webber.
"You ain't talking to nobody," Green responds. "You're gonna sign this (expletive) paper."
Siler screams. More blows are heard. The lawmen continue to order Siler to sign. He responds with moans and more screams. But there would be no reprieve.
"Eugene, it's just beginning, buddy," Webber says.
Siler is going to die, the officers tell him.
"I want to help you," Siler says.
Webber responds, "No, I don't want your help. I want you to sign that form 'cause you're the one we want and we got 'cha (sic), and if you don't sign it, you probably won't walk out of here."
Siler is next threatened with electrocution. Webber tells him that they could take a battery charger, hook some wires to it and attach it to Siler's testicles. The federal informations allege that the lawmen later rigged up such a device and used clamps to attach it to Siler's body.
Monday is accused in the informations with pointing a gun at Siler, threatening to shoot him.
The transcript backs up the allegation.
"Shoot his (expletive) ass," Green says.
Amid the threats, Siler is again beaten, but he still refuses to sign. Siler pleads with the officers as Franklin threatens to burn him with a lighter after giving him a cigarette.
The transcript also reveals an obscure threat by Green.
"Let's give him a haircut," Green says.
At some point, one of the officers shows Siler a pellet gun apparently found in the house. Siler tells the officers it belongs to his son. Monday sees the find as another way to convince Siler his life is hanging in the balance.
"Eugene, you're gonna sign this right here or I'm gonna (expletive) put a bullet in your damn head, and we're gonna (expletive) plant this BB gun," Monday says.
Webber later adds, "Hey, Eugene, what loss do you think it's gonna be to us if you die, buddy? It's going to be no loss to us."
By now, Siler is groaning and gasping for breath, claiming he is suffering a heart attack.
Webber demands Siler tell him where he has hidden drugs or money.
"I want what you have right now," Webber says.
Siler responds, "I don't have nothing, sir."
The FBI transcript details an unrelenting assault that authorities contend did not end when the tape recorder suddenly stopped. The informations allege the attack on Siler included having his head forced underwater in both a fish tank and a toilet.
By day's end, Siler would wind up not in a hospital but a Campbell County jail cell, charged with running from the officers and tossing drugs to avoid an arrest. His wife, too, would be charged.
Wheels Of Justice
In a prior interview with the News Sentinel, McClellan recalled seeing Siler at the jail after the attack. Siler complained to the sheriff that deputies had beaten him. McClellan ordered a nurse to check Siler but put little stock in Siler's claims.
"I didn't see any visible signs on him, and it looked like he was under the influence of something," McClellan said in the interview.
Within three weeks, however, McClellan would announce that he had fired all five deputies - based on evidence that he refused to identify but described as damning.
Siler and his wife turned to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and two attorneys, Michael Farley and Kristie Anderson, for help. The TBI interviewed the five lawmen, all of whom denied Siler's claims.
Based on the TBI probe, District Attorney General Paul Phillips convened a grand jury. The Silers testified as did their son. McClellan and TBI agents also were summoned as witnesses. Franklin and Carroll showed up uninvited and voluntarily gave testimony.
Exactly what the grand jury heard is unknown. Grand jury proceedings are secret by law.
The panel would later return indictments against Webber, Franklin, Monday and Green, accusing the quartet of official oppression and perjury. Carroll was cleared by the grand jury.
Within three months, officials confirmed that the FBI had launched its own investigation. Last week, all five lawmen agreed to skip normal prosecution channels, including a federal grand jury review. The informations filed last week will be assigned to a federal judge and, in the coming weeks, the men will be scheduled to appear in federal court.
But it's not clear if the federal court case signals the end of the FBI's probe. The informations don't answer all the lingering questions.
But one thing appears certain, these five men who once swore to uphold the law are now at its mercy.
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