Centra Emergency room

The entrance to the emergency room at Lynchburg General Hospital is shown in this 2013 file photo.

Lynchburg prosecutors are weighing criminal charges against three Blue Ridge Regional Jail officers accused of beating a patient at a local hospital.

In a search warrant filed last week, a Lynchburg police detective said the assault occurred in the emergency room at Lynchburg General Hospital on May 9 after a 30-year-old Bedford man was transported from a city jail for court-ordered medical treatment. It is unclear what precipitated the treatment. Jail officials declined to discuss the incident this week.

After the man’s arrival, multiple hospital employees told police they observed and heard him being assaulted by correctional officers behind partially closed curtains, according to a search warrant affidavit completed by Det. R.G. Miller on Sept. 11. The beating caused “substantial injuries on his face and neck.”

The search warrant, which was filed in Lynchburg Circuit Court and unsealed Monday, identifies the officers involved as Cory James Hancock, 29, Navarone Andrew Hartman, 26, and Julius Anthony Tallant, 26.

“We are looking over material to see if we have sufficient evidence for criminal charges,” Lynchburg Commonwealth’s Attorney Bethany Harrison said Tuesday, referring to evidence collected by Lynchburg police.

Assault and battery is a misdemeanor under Virginia law.

Because of his injuries, the Bedford man — identified in court records as Preston Lloyd Burns — was X-rayed and examined by a forensic nurse, the search warrant states. A mugshot taken a week later shows a bruise under Burns’ left eye.

Video surveillance at the hospital captured Burns entering the building “in an uninjured state” with the officers around midnight, according to the search warrant. He was placed in a hospital bay, where he was secured by leg restraints, a waist belt and handcuffs, according to the search warrant.

It is unclear if there is any recording of the alleged assault. Correctional officers in the region and hospital security guards are not outfitted with body-worn cameras. The search warrant cited multiple witnesses to the incident, including “nurses, doctors, janitorial, X-ray and registration” employees for Centra Health.

Patients referred for court-ordered treatment in Lynchburg often are transported to LGH for an examination to determine if they need to be sent to another hospital for further monitoring. The court orders, commonly known as temporary detention orders, generally stem from mental health crises.

It is not clear what precipitated Burns’ court-ordered treatment. The search warrant states officials were preparing to transport him to Western State Hospital, a psychiatric treatment center in Staunton, when the incident occurred.

Jail records show Burns was arrested and booked in a Lynchburg detention center two days before the alleged beating. Court records show he was charged with trespassing and was taken into custody after refusing to leave LGH. The reason behind Burns’ initial visit to LGH is not clear.

A spokesperson for Centra Health, which owns and operates LGH, said hospital officials are cooperating with the investigation.

“We are cooperating fully with law enforcement on their investigation and will continue to do so,” spokesperson Diane Ludwig said in a statement Tuesday. “We consider ourselves community partners with law enforcement and take the safety of our patients very seriously.”

On Friday, police seized the correctional officers’ training records from the jail authority. According to the search warrant, several officers involved in the incident claimed Burns’ injuries were the result of “justified actions” they learned while undergoing training.

All three officers are still employed by the jail, though at least one is now on administrative leave, according to Harrison. She declined to identify the officer on leave and directed comments to Tim Trent, the administrator of the Blue Ridge Regional Jail Authority. Trent said Tuesday he was unsure which officer is now on leave.

It is unclear if the officer is on paid administrative leave. A search of court records finds no other charges against any of the three men named in the search warrant.

Trent declined to comment on the alleged incident, citing the ongoing investigation.

Burns has spent much of the last two weeks in jail, where he was being held on a charge of failure to appear in court. He was granted release Tuesday afternoon by a judge in Lynchburg General District Court but was unable to be immediately reached for comment. His attorney, a public defender, declined to comment.

Unlike most detainees with charges pending in Lynchburg, Burns was being held at the Blue Ridge Regional Jail in Campbell County to avoid coming into contact with the officers involved in the May 9 incident, according to Trent. Both the Lynchburg and Campbell County jails are part of the same regional jail system.

“It was in everybody’s best interest that he be moved to another facility,” Trent said.

Richard Chumney covers breaking news and public safety for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5547. 

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