The defendants in a federal suit accusing staff of the Pulaski County Detention Center of causing or failing to prevent injury to an inmate in their custody have filed a motion for summary judgement, seeking to have a judge dismiss the case against them.
The case stems from an incident that began September 10, 2017 during the arrest of Jason Edward Sears.
Sears was charged in Pulaski District Court with Menacing, Resisting Arrest, third-degree Criminal Mischief, second-degree Disorderly Conduct and Failure to Notify an Owner of an Unattended Vehicle of Damage.
Ultimately, Sears pleaded guilty to Failure to Produce Insurance Cards and Failure to Produce License, while the other charges were dismissed.
The incident began when the vehicle Sears was driving struck another vehicle in the parking lot of the north McDonalds.
According to SPD, during the arrest Sears was acting in an aggressive manner. Officers and witnesses stated that Sears’s behavior was consistent with someone under the influence of alcohol.
Sears contends that he was undergoing medical emergencies – partial complex seizure activity – which was the cause of his seemingly belligerent actions toward law enforcement.
Sears filed the federal suit seeking damages for “unnecessary mental and physical pain and suffering.”
Current defendants named in the suit are Pulaski County government, CorHealth Solutions LLC; PCDC employees Sergeant Raymond Bates II, Deputy James E. Pitman II, Deputy Lila Coffman, Deputy Christopher Keeney, Sgt. James E. Pitman, Amy Parsons, Major Ron Swartz and (former) Jailer David Moss.
Dismissed as defendants last November were the Somerset Police Department and three individual SPD officers, who settled their part of the suit by paying $8,000 to Plaintiff Sears. None of the SPD officer nor SPD admitted wrongdoing.
After his arrest by SPD officers, Sears was brought to PCDC where he states he experienced at least two seizure episodes. During both of those episodes, he alleges he was injured or had unnecessary force used against him when staff should have recognized his medical issue.
Specifically, Sears contends that two incidents took place. One was during a shower Sears was instructed to take so he could be “decontaminated and cleaned” after his arrest.
According to court documents, surveillance video from the jail shows that Sears went to the floor during the shower, then got up and attempted to leave the shower area without fully rinsing off.
As he attempted to leave, video shows Sergeant Raymond Bates II and Deputy James E. Pitman II commanded Sears to remain in the shower area. Pitman deployed his OC (pepper) spray while Bates allegedly “throat-punched” Sears.
Bates contends that he was pushing against Sears’s chest and his hand slipped as a result of the soap and water on Sears.
A second interaction took place later that evening, around 11 p.m., where Sears was seen on video to be awake and possibly attempting to interact with other, sleeping inmates. Jail staff attempted to remove Sears from the cell “because other inmates were becoming angry with him.”
Sears alleges that those staff members “forced [him] to the ground and restrained him.”
The defendants involved in both altercations claim that the use of force on Sears was not excessive. Rather, the defendants’ argue that the video shows proof that Sears was non-compliant with orders.
The defendants contend that the only injuries that can be attributed to jail staff’s actions are bruising to Sears’s neck, sides, arms and legs. The defendants state that in a disposition taken earlier in the year, “The Plaintiff testified these alleged injuries healed on their own less than a week after the incident.”
Attorneys for the defendants quote from judgements from other similar cases, saying, “Correctional officers do not violate an inmate’s constitutional rights merely by using force to gain compliance with their commands.”
The defendants argue that “Because jail officials ‘must make their decisions in haste, under pressure, and frequently without the luxury of a second chance,’ they are granted ‘wide-ranging deference in the adoption and execution of policies and practices that in their judgement are needed to preserve internal order and discipline and the maintain institutional security.’”
According to the defendants’ motions for summary judgement, Sears could not say which – if either – of the incidents resulted in the specific injuries he received – or if the visible bruising was received during his arrest before he entered the jail.
The defendants also argue they there is no evidence that PCDC staff knew Sears had a seizure disorder and, therefore, could not have deliberately denied him medical care.
A summary judgement is a request for a judge to rule that either the other party has no case, or that if the case were to go to trial a jury would have no other option but to rule in favor of the party making the request.
Court records do not indicate a timeframe for when the judge will make a ruling on the motion.