The state medical examiner’s office has ruled the manner of death for William Barnard Hawk, the Lincoln County Jail inmate who died last Sept. 15 after an altercation with corrections officers, as a homicide.
According to the findings, released to The Times by the state ME’s office, while the manner of death was determined to be homicide, the cause of death was traumatic asphyxia, a condition that results in the loss of the ability to breathe brought on by intense compression of the chest, which leads to the backflow of blood from the right side of the heart into the veins of the neck and brain, according to medicinenet.com.
Homicide is not the same thing as murder, according to legal counsel. Homicide is defined as “death at the hand of another” – the action of one person directly causing the death of another. A violent death may stem from some kind of deliberate or purposeful action, but intent to cause death need not be present or proven for the classification of homicide.
It will be up to the district attorney on the case to determine whether it is in the state’s interest to charge the corrections officers involved in the altercation that day at the Lincoln County Jail, according to authorities.
Assigned to the case as district attorney pro tempore is the office of District Attorney Brent Cooper, who serves as district attorney general for the 22nd Judicial District, which includes Giles, Lawrence, Maury and Wayne counties. Cooper was appointed to handle the investigation earlier this year after District Attorney Robert Carter, who represents the 17th Judicial District which includes Lincoln, Bedford, Marshall and Moore counties, recused himself from the case.
Carter said at the time that his office could not be involved in the case, because a member of the immediate family of an employee of his office could potentially be called as a witness if the case were to proceed to court. The individual was present at the time of the altercation, and as a result, has been questioned by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) in the investigation.
The autopsy results come almost six months after the altercation.
As of noon Monday, Cooper had not returned The Times’ calls to see if he plans to take the case to the Lincoln County Grand Jury. The grand jury is scheduled to convene next week.