Corrections officer charged with assaulting inmate

Justin Blake Taylor 

2nd officer arrested in unrelated incident

Two corrections officers of the Coffee County Sheriff’s Department were arrested last week in separate incidents – one following an alleged assault of an inmate.

Justin Blake Taylor, 26, of Tracy City, was arrested Friday night, Nov. 16, on an indictment of one count of aggravated assault and one count of simple assault of a male inmate at the Coffee County Jail, according to Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott.

“He’s been charged with assaulting an inmate by strangulation, that’s the basis of the aggravated assault,” Northcott said.

The incident occurred Oct. 8, according to Northcott and the grand jury handed up the indictment on Nov. 13.

While several corrections officers were present at the time of the alleged assault, only Taylor has been charged. 

“There were multiple officers present, but Mr. Taylor was the only one that participated in the assault,” Northcott said.

Northcott said he couldn’t provide information about the victim at this time, but as the hearings progress, more details will be available.

“We are taking this very seriously, and we will do all we can to get the just result in this incident,” Northcott said.

According to Coffee County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Frank Watkins, after the incident, the inmate was treated by the medical staff at the sheriff’s department.

“There was some concern about issues with his neck,” Watkins said.

Taylor turned himself in to the sheriff’s department on Friday.

“He got word that we were [looking for him] and he turned himself in Friday night,” Northcott said. “He posted a $25,000 bond.”

Taylor is expected in Coffee County Circuit Court on Nov. 27.

“He should be in court next Tuesday for arraignment on these charges, at which time, we will find out who his attorney is,” Northcott said.

Taylor was hired in March 2017 and was assigned to the correctional division of the sheriff’s department when the incident occurred, according to Watkins.

After the incident occurred, an investigation was conducted with evidence presented to the district attorney. Once the internal investigation was concluded, Taylor was terminated for violation of several departmental policies, according to Watkins.


Second officer arrested

In an unrelated incident, Michael J. Merrill, 24, a corrections officer for the Coffee County Sheriff’s Department, was arrested on Sunday, Nov. 11 on a reckless endangerment charge, according to Watkins.

Winchester Police Department and Franklin County Sheriff’s Department personnel responded to a report that shots had been fired near Gary’s Lake Market on Highway 130.

Franklin County Officers responded to Merrill’s residence and contacted Merrill.

According to the police report, Merrill was wearing a black bulletproof vest, and officers said they could smell what they believed to be alcohol on the suspect’s breath.

Merrill was checked for weapons, and he said he had been shooting from the back porch into the air. He also allegedly told officers he had been drinking beer and liquor.

Reports state that during a search of the residence, a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle was found with a 30-round magazine loaded in it. It was taken into evidence.

Merrill posted a $2,500 bond for reckless endangerment.

He is due in Franklin County General Sessions Court on Dec. 6, according to Watkins.

Merrill was hired April 2016. He has been suspended without pay, according to Watkins.

He has been suspended pending the outcome of the case, according to Watkins.

Elena Cawley can be reached by email at