Local pepper spray lawsuit mirrors others around the country

Inmates claim they were hit by chemical irritants while restrained.

The attorney for a woman who was pepper sprayed while restrained at the Montgomery County Jail has called for the firing and prosecution of the responsible jail employee and an independent investigation into the incident and possible destruction of records.

Amber Swink’s attorney said his client’s case has raised very serious questions about accountability and inappropriate conduct at the jail that an outside agency like the FBI should investigate. Video evidence and other records related to the pepper spraying incident allegedly went missing.

Swink, 25, of Union City is the latest current or former inmate nationwide to sue authorities for deploying pepper spray while they were in restraints and incarcerated.

Law enforcement and jail officers across the country have faced civil and criminal litigation for similar kinds of incidents.

“I am familiar with some of (the other cases), but I think ours is one of the most egregious across the country,” said Douglas Brannon, partner with Brannon Law Firm.

A review of cases by this newspaper show Swink’s lawsuit bears considerable resemblance to other civil cases from across the country filed by inmates who were hit accused police and detention officers of hitting them with chemical irritants while in restraints.

In 2014, a Maine prison inmate who was pepper sprayed while confined in a restraint chair and left alone for 20 minutes filed a lawsuit against the corrections captain who sprayed him, according to the Portland Press Herald.

Nineteen-year-old Daniel Linsinbigler Jr. died on March 12, 2013, in the medical unit of the Clay County Jail in Florida after he was pepper sprayed, placed in a restraint chair and strapped into a spit mask, according to the Florida Times-Union newspaper. His family said he died from asphyxia.

Prosecutors concluded the jail staff did not commit criminal wrongdoing, but the family filed a federal lawsuit against the sheriff and corrections officers, which was settled for $2.2 million, the newspaper reported.

In March 2009, an Ohio man who visited his brother in Florida was strapped to a restraining chair in the Lee County Jail, sprayed with pepper pray and was placed in a spit hood, according to the Huffington Post.

The man, who was arrested for misdemeanor trespassing and had mental problems, died two days later after suffering multiple heart attacks.

Video of the incident involving Swink shows that use of force was not needed to bring her under control because she was completely restrained, said Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist for the ACLU of Ohio.

“I can’t think of any circumstance where it is acceptable for law enforcement or a prison or a jail to use something like pepper spray in that type of situation,” he said.

Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer did not respond to requests for comment Friday afternoon.

In certain cases, police and jail officials have faced criminal charges for deploying pepper spray when it was not necessary to bring someone under control, officials say.

In May 2012, a 26-year-old former detention officer at a county jail in Oklahoma pleaded guilty to charges related to assaulting an inmate and then attempting to cover up the incident, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Jerrod Lane sprayed an inmate at the jail while the victim was in a restraint chair and posed no threat, the department said.

Lane deployed the spray to punish the inmate for bothering him and then falsified his report and then lied to FBI agents, officials said.

“The Civil Rights Division will aggressively prosecute corrections officers who use their authority to physically abuse inmates,” said Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

Swink was arrested by police with Perry and Clay Twps. on the 4600 block of N. Sulphur Springs Road, located southwest of Brookville on Nov. 15, according to a police report.

Swink and her boyfriend were allegedly drinking and arguing and throwing things at each other. The caretaker of an elderly woman who lives at the residence says Swink threatened her.

Police confronted Swink, who allegedly hit a Clay Twp. officer in the face, knocking off his glasses, the report states.

Swink was highly uncooperative and kicked an officer in the face after she was placed in the back of a police cruiser, police said.

Swink continued to act belligerent while in a holding cell at the jail, and Montgomery County Jail Sgt. Judith Sealey hit Swink with some oleoresin capsicum spray (pepper spray), according to her lawsuit.

Swink claims she stopped being disruptive but was put into a seven-point restraint chair and was wheeled into an isolation room where she was kept for an hour and a half, the suit states.

Swink began yelling after being left so long in the restraints, at which time Sealey came in and sprayed her face and body with more pepper spray, the suit states. Swink fell unconscious and was later revived by a jail medic, the lawsuit states.

Sealey used force even though none was needed to reasonably control the suspect because Swink was completely restrained and unable to move, said Brannon, the attorney.

Brannon has called for Sealey’s termination and criminal prosecution. Sealey was promoted in January to captain.

Plummer said Sealey’s use of force report, some jail logs and video of the pepper spray incident are missing. Brannon released a copy of the video, which Plummer said he only saw for the first time on Wednesday.

Plummer said Sealey’s discipline may have been more severe if he saw the video.

Plummer said he is launching an investigation into what happened to the video and other records. He said it appears that someone inside the organization tampered with them.

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