Inmate’s Rights Violated?
Fed Judge Asking
The Tulsa World
TULSA--A federal judge has ruled that a former Tulsa jail inmate who was stunned with a Taser after refusing to pick something up from the jail floor may have had his constitutional rights violated.
U.S. District Judge John Judge Dowdell, in an opinion and order issued Tuesday in a related lawsuit, found that the evidence presented thus far in the case could lead a reasonable jury to determine that the jailer violated the inmate’s constitutional rights when he used the Taser on John Edgar Williams III when he was an inmate in the jail in 2014.
Williams was still an inmate in the jail when he sued Tulsa County Sheriff Cpl. Dennis Miller on Jan. 16, 2015, in Tulsa Federal court.
He is seeking $10,000 from Miller and $250,000 from the Tulsa County sheriff’s office, which is not a named party in the case. Williams is not represented by an attorney in his lawsuit.
Judge Dowdell, in his ruling, denied Miller’s request for summary judgment in his favor regarding the subsequent civil rights lawsuit filed by Williams.
Williams, who was an inmate at the Tulsa jail awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge, encountered Miller and two other jail employees while he was walking to the medial unit on May 17, 2014, to receive a breathing treatment.
Tulsa County officials, in a report to the judge, said Williams was ordered to go back to his jail pod because he wasn’t authorized to walk through the jail grounds without a jail employee escort.
Williams asked one of the three jail employees to escort him back to the jail, but they refused, he claims, prompting the detainee to toss his empty inhaler to the ground after he returned to his pod area.
Williams said he then raised his hands in a show of surrender just before being electronically stunned.
Tulsa County officials maintained that Williams threw the inhaler to the ground, breaking it, which prompted Miller to order the inmate to pick up the broken device.
Jail officials, in their report to the judge, claimed Williams clenched his fists and took an “aggressive stance” before asking “What are you going to do, tase me?”
Miller, who had been transferred to the jail the week before, then deployed his Taser on Williams, who was then handcuffed and forced to pick up the broken inhaler before being sent to the medical unit.
County officials said Miller, following a review by the agency’s internal affairs division, was ordered to undergo detention officers’ training and have a “one-on-one review” of the county use-of-force policy.
Judge Dowdell, in his ruling, said a jury could find that Miller “deployed his Taser as punishment or retaliation,” which is prohibited under TCSO’s policies.
Williams, the judge wrote in his ruling, “was not behaving dangerously or violently during the incident and,…was showing his hands in surrender when Defendant stunned him with a Taser.”
Miller claimed he deployed his Taser because he “did not want the incident to escalate into a physical confrontation.”
However, Judge Dowdell determined that the “mere possibility of a physical confrontation did not warrant” Miller deploying his Taser.
Furthermore, case law at the time of the incident made it a constitutional violation to deploy a Taser on a nonaggressive pretrial detainee who failed to comply with an order, the judge wrote, but gave no indication that a lesser degree of force would not have been sufficient to enforce compliance.
Judge Dowdell also noted that the special report submitted by the county in response to his order failed to note whether the other two jail employees involved in the incident submitted use-of-force reports regarding Miller’s use of the Taser as required by Tulsa County Sheriff’s office policy.
The World requested use-of-force reports from the two other employees regarding the incident. TCSO indicated in its response to the World that the reports were not required because the two employees did not use force.
The TCSO policy is vague on the issue, stating a use-of-force report must be completed by “each employee involved in a Taser incident.”
The judge also noted an apparent contradiction in the evidence regarding video recordings made of the incident.
Tulsa County Officials, in their special report, indicated that a video recording of the incident was not preserved because video recorded in that area of the jail where the incident occurred was automatically deleted after three days if not saved.
Judge Dowdell noted that TCSO officials, in their special report to him about the incident, noted that they reviewed the surveillance video documenting the event.
“This statement appears to conflict with TCSO’s assertion that the video … was not preserved,” the judge wrote.
The judge did grant summary judgment in favor of Miller regarding claims by Williams that he used excessive force by making him pick up the inhaler after being stunned, as well as claims he was subsequently denied appropriate medical care.
Miller’s attorney, Scott Wood, an attorney in private practice, but whose work on the case is paid for by TCSO, could not be reached for comment on the ruling.
A spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office said the three employees were still employed by TCSO.
Williams received an 11-year prison term after subsequently pleading guilty to a reduced charge of first-degree manslaughter in the 2012 shooting death of Alvin Johnson, records show.
Federal District Judge John Dowdell talks about the possible violation of the rights of an inmate.
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