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Former Muscogee County Jail inmate suing city officials for cruel and unusual punishment

Cortney Jackson, a former Muscogee County Jail inmate suing city officials for cruel and unusual punishment, was staying in a dormitory for mentally ill inmates when he was beaten and stunned repeatedly with a Taser by correctional employees, according to records from the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office.

The Ledger-Enquirer obtained video cam footage, as well as incident and use-of-force reports, of the June 29, 2016 incident from officials through an open records request submitted to City Attorney Clifton Fay.

Jackson, who had been at the jail for two years, was released unexpectedly Thursday when the video was made public, according to his attorneys.

The video footage shows correctional officers and deputies grabbing and punching Jackson frantically while he was naked in HD Cell 7, reserved for inmates on suicide watch. They stunned him 10 times, the Taser making loud clicking sounds with each surge of energy.

At one point, correctional employees put a white spit bag over Jackson’s head, as he sat on the floor seemingly in a daze, his mouth oozing with blood. A tooth was knocked out, according to reports from the Sheriff’s Office, and officers restrained him using leg shackles and handcuffs during the altercation.

On July 18, 2016, Major T. Culpepper described the use of force as extensive and “outside of policy under most circumstances.” He recommended better training for staff to avoid such situations in the future.

Though the incident occurred before she was in office, Sheriff Donna Tompkins said Friday that video cam footage doesn’t always capture the full story and the public needs to be careful drawing conclusions about the incident.

In the video footage obtained by the Ledger-Enquirer, Jackson appears fairly subdued and putting up little resistance, except during the moments when his body stiffened or he tried pulling away as the guards tried to stun him.

But in their reports regarding the incident, officers and deputies wrote that Jackson had flooded his cell via the toilet multiple times that week, and he had been removed so his cell could be cleaned. Once escorted back to HD-7, Jackson refused to comply with verbal commands and became aggressive and violent towards the officers, according to official reports.

“Inmate Jackson then stepped up onto the bench in the cell and was beginning to try and fight all the officers in the cell,” wrote Deputy Brian Davis in his report. Officers managed to get Jackson off the bench and on his knees, removing handcuffs from both hands. But he continued to resist, according to Davis’ account of the incident, and more officers were called in.

When Davis and another officer tried to leave the cell, Jackson grabbed them by their shirts, according to the report. Multiple verbal commands were given and he would not comply.

“At this point, several closed fist strikes were delivered to inmate Jackson’s head, face abdomen and ribs,” Davis wrote. “Due to his continuous combative and aggressive behavior, C.O. Gilliland attempted to drive stun using the CEW (Controlled Electronic Weapon). The CEW had no effect and the subject, as he attempted to grab the CEW from C.O. Gilliland. A second CEW and all available officers were called for.

“… Once multiple officers and another CEW arrived, they entered the cell and at that point a second CEW was deployed at this time,” Davis continued. “Contact was made and he eventually let go of me. Once he released his grip, I was then pulled from the cell by other officers as others moved into the cell to restrain him.”

The footage the Ledger-Enquirer received didn’t show Jackson being combative. It started with him already subdued by officers.

Eventually, the officers and deputies placed Jackson in a restraint chair where he was given a shot and then taken to the jail clinic for observation. Sixty-one minutes later he went back to his cell.

Jackson’s family and attorneys said the officers and deputies gave him Haldol, a medicine for schizophrenia.

Response from family

On July 5, 2016, Jackson’s sister, Chasity Lee, a resident of Birmingham, Ala., sent a letter to then Sheriff John Darr and other officials expressing concern about how her brother was being treated at the jail.

“… No one has seen him since an altercation that happened on Saturday, June 25th,” she wrote. “A worker with the NAACP has went to the jail to see him, with permission from Sheriff Darr and he was denied the visit. I am asking you to please help my brother and stop the attacks that is inflicted on him by jail guards.”

Lee said the family had spoken to nurses, doctors and the jail warden about her brother’s condition, and they all said Jackson was fine with no physical injuries.

She said it was another inmate who called and informed her that her brother was stunned with a Taser and injured.

“Also, I want to know why a doctor introduces such strong psychotic drugs to my brother without knowing his health history,” she wrote. “My mother and I are also asking to visit Cortney. The doctor stated he has not spoken since the altercation date listed above. We are in need of help and beg you to please help us, this has already gotten worse.’

Jackson, 21, was arrested Feb. 2, 2016, and charged with obstruction of a law enforcement officer, theft by receiving stolen property and pedestrian darting into traffic, according to information on the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office website. He was incarcerated at the jail for two years and released unexpectedly on Thursday, according to his attorneys.

He is being represented by Mark Shelnutt, a Columbus attorney, and Meghan Garcia, an attorney with a Birmingham-based law firm, living in Atlanta.

Last month, Shelnutt filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Jackson’s behalf, seeking redress for the “deprivation of rights guaranteed by the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.”

Defendants listed in the case are the Columbus Consolidated Government, City of Columbus, Muscogee County Sheriff’s Department, Muscogee County Jail and West Central Regional Hospital, as well as individual correctional officers, deputies, a doctor and nurse involved in the alleged incidents.

The June 29, 2016 incident occurred three days after Jackson asked for a psychiatrist in another incident during which he was stunned with a Taser. At the time of both incidents, he was under suicide watch because of a suicide attempt when he first entered the jail on Feb. 2, 2016, according to authorities.

In that situation, officers found Jackson at the top tier of a second floor cell with one end of a bed roll wrapped around his neck and the other end wrapped around the bars, according to an incident report.

Response from sheriff

On Friday, Sheriff Donna Tompkins said incidents referred to in the lawsuit occurred under the previous administration and she wasn’t aware of the details until contacted by the Ledger-Enquirer.

“Supposedly there’s litigation. I don’t know,” she said. “We have not been served with anything, me or any of my officers that I’m aware of. But I certainly wouldn’t want to endanger them by making any unwise comments about any of them.

 

NO VIDEO CAPTURES YOUR FEELINGS, OR WHAT YOU SEE, OR YOUR PERCEPTION AT THAT MOMENT. I’VE SEEN TOO MANY VIDEOS TO KNOW THAT THAT JUST MAY NOT ALWAYS BE EXACTLY WHAT YOU’RE SEEING.

Sheriff Donna Tompkins

“… But I will say this,” the sheriff continued. “No video captures your feelings, or what you see, or your perception at that moment. I’ve seen too many videos to know that that just may not always be exactly what you’re seeing.”

She used Jackson being naked on the video as an example.

“One of the things that I do know from looking at some if it: the fact that he was naked, he has clothes, he just didn’t put them on,” she said. “We give everyone down there a smock. It’s a green suicide smock, that’s what’s issued from our mental health people. … I can’t make you wear it if you won’t wear it.”

Reports: officers injured

In his use-of force report, Correctional Officer Jerald Gilliland wrote that he struck Jackson with a closed fist when the inmate attempted to bite him. He said the spit bag was placed over his head because multiple officers were bitten.

“Once the mask was applied to Inmate Jackson, he calmed down a little,” he wrote.

Gilliland attempted to stun Jackson with a CEW, according to a report written by Corporal Robert Denney. Jackson tried to take the weapon from him.

“I then kicked inmate Jackson on his right side multiple times until he released the CEW,” Denney wrote. “Jackson was then brought down to the ground in attempt to roll him over to be handcuffed. Jackson continued to fight the officers and refused all commands given.

“The CEW was deployed and contact was made,” Denney continued in his report. “I became tangled up in the wires during the fight. I was tased multiple times during the fight trying to get Jackson to roll over. All officers then attempted to back out of the cell while tasing inmate Jackson under power. I was the last one out attempting to leave the cell. Inmate Jackson jumped up at the end of the 5 second cycle. He came at me and got me in a headlock. I reached for his testicles and squeezed them until he released me. Inmate Jackson was then brought to the ground and shackled.”

Deputy Kimberly White wrote that she struck Jackson multiple times with her feet until he released his hold on Denney.

Deputy Stephanie Bowers wrote: “Once the new C.E.W. arrived, I grabbed it and yelled, “Taser Taser” and deployed the CEW after a connection was made.”

Cortney Jackson Still4

She said Jackson continued to resist. “At some point during this struggle, Lieutenant Trotter was pushed backwards and fell and his head hit the concrete bench and he began to bleed from his head. I yelled for officers to get Lieutenant Trotter out of the cell. Due to the inmate continuously resisting and fighting with officers, the inmate was tased several more times.”

A few officers were treated for minor injuries related to the incident, according to official reports.

On July 1, 2016 ,Captain Glenda Hall issued a statement to jail administrators.

“On today’s date I spoke with Deputy Stephanie Bowers regarding the (Use of Force) involving Inmate Courtney Jackson on June 29, 2016,” she wrote. “Deputy Bowers deployed the CEW multiple times in an effort to gain control and compliance from Inmate Jackson. The CEW did not faze the inmate and did not stop his combative actions towards the officers. I asked Deputy Bowers to please recognize for any future (Use of Force) incidents the effectiveness and ineffectiveness of the CEW. Basically if the CEW is not effective after a few attempts, to go to a different method for control and compliance. Deputy Bowers said she understood.”

Use of Force Report

On July 18, 2016, Major T. Culpepper summarized a Use of Force Report received by the Office of Professional Standards for Darr.

“The Use of Force submitted along with documentation was extensive and outlined what seemed to have been a serious force event where Inmate Jackson combatively engaged multiple officers,” he wrote. “The report details of the resistance and aggression against the deputies and officers were such that some of the deputies and officers reported they used numerous hard hand strikes with both fist and feet, and the deployment of E.C.W. (Electronic Control Weapon)was used on Inmate Jackson an estimated ten (10) times which is outside of policy under most circumstances.”

Culpepper recommended Bowers receive “refresher training regarding E.C.W. deployment when the results are not effective against the party it is being used on.”

In addition, “It is my observation that a best practices approach of having inmate Jackson examined by an independent medical staff at one of the hospitals instead of the Jail Clinic may have been a more prudent action considering the following reasons: number of strikes received by Inmate Jackson to the face and head area, i.e., tooth knocked loose, estimated possible seventy (70) seconds of off and on E.C.W. current, mental state of Courtney Jackson both historically and at the present time of the resistance, medication (shot) having to be administered.”

Culpepper further recommended that training staff review the event in order to provide suggestions, recommendations, guidance and tactics planning advice in the event of another similar occurrence.

 

The lawsuit also refers to a July 1, 2016, incident when Jackson was allegedly struck by a corporal on the right side of the mouth. And on July 10, a deputy allegedly struck him several times in the face, body and mouth with a closed fist.

Jackson underwent a CT scan of his chest, neck and brain to evaluate physical injuries sustained following the alleged assault by guards and officers at the jail. The results showed that he “suffered a pneumothrorax to his right lung and emphysema due to the trauma sustained at the hands of defendants,” according to the lawsuit. He also allegedly “suffered from urethral stricture secondary to his trauma, as well as subcutaneous facial hematomas caused by the repeated blows.” He was subsequently diagnosed with abnormal liver function and elevated liver enzymes and his hematology lab work was abnormal, according to the lawsuit.

“Despite all these serious medical conditions, the Plaintiff was not provided medical care to determine the reason for the abnormal findings,” it reads. “The Plaintiff also did not receive any additional or follow-up medical treatment for his injuries.”

He was hospitalized at the West Central Georgia Regional Hospital to undergo an assessment of his competency to stand trial, according to the lawsuit. “The Plaintiff did not receive a complete and adequate psychiatric/mental health evaluation and was not given adequate medical and mental care from either the Muscogee County Jail or the East Central Georgia Regional Hospital.”