Amber Swink was pepper-sprayed by then Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Judith Sealey, who has since been promoted to captain because of political reasons, Tuesday’s civil rights suit alleges.
Other allegations include departmental policy violations and a coverup, which Sheriff Phil Plummer strongly denies. Plummer did not defend Sealey’s actions against Swink.
A video of the Nov. 15, 2015 incident that claims excessive force “that amounted to torture” first was posted on the website of attorney Douglas Brannon. The suit names as defendants the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, Plummer, Sealey, Capt. Chuck Crosby and other John and/or Jane Does.
Swink, now 25, had been pepper-sprayed once by Sealey — the highest-ranking officer at the jail that day — before being placed into a restraint in an isolation cell, according to the suit.
The video shows her being blasted again by pepper spray while unable to move. The Washington Post reported that Swink could hear deputies laughing.
“It felt like somebody just crushed up fresh peppers and made me use them as face cream,” Swink told The Washington Post, adding that she now has chronic breathing problems. “I remember my mouth was filling with a thick slobber, like foaming up — and that was also blocking my airway. … I thought I might die.”
The video clip shows Swink coughing before appearing to pass out. A medic performed sternum rubs until Swink regained consciousness.
“I’m very concerned with the fact that (Sealey) was promoted, No. 1, in light of such egregious conduct,” Brannon told this news organization. “Personally, I think she should have been prosecuted immediately and criminally prosecuted for assault on my client.”
Plummer said Wednesday that he saw the video and that Sealey’s actions were a violation of policy.
“She shouldn’t have sprayed her in the chair,” Plummer said. “I’ll admit she was at fault. She was dealt with. … (Swink) was, according to the report, yelling and screaming, and (Sealey) sprayed her. It’s nothing we train and condone and that’s why she’s disciplined for it. She made a mistake.”
Plummer said Sealey was given a “letter of caution,” which would remain in her file for six months. Plummer said that overall, Sealey is “top-notch” and that there was no way she would be terminated.
The suit said when pepper spray is deployed by sheriff’s office personnel, a use-of-force report is required.
But Sealey didn’t fill one out and wasn’t made to, the suit alleges, “so that there would be a lack of evidence of the excessive use of force … and less likelihood that the matter would be made public.”
The complaint said “several private meetings were held” to determine how to conceal the incident and that information should be “intentionally destroyed.”
Plummer disputed that contention, saying some information was stolen from his office and that Brannon was in possession of “stolen property” that could have come from inside the department.
The suit alleges promotion to captain was "political and racially motivated" when Plummer fired Capt. Thomas Flanders (who was represented by Brannon) and Detective Michael Sollenberger for racist text messages and a "back door" deal was made to promote Sealey because of pressure from Dayton Unit NAACP President Derrick Foward.
“(Brannon’s) trying to tie this into Flanders’ deal, saying I sold out to the NACCP, which is preposterous,” Plummer said. “It’s absolutely ludicrous.”
The complaint states Swink had been drinking heavily and that she was taken by Clay Twp. police to jail. Jail personnel were advised she was intoxicated and acting belligerently.
Swink was sentenced to community control after being convicted of assault on a police officer for breaking the officer’s glasses. Plummer said that offense should net incarceration.
The suit alleged the sheriff’s office committed a records retention policy violation by saying the video could not be located and for not filing a use of force report.
“We don’t sweep anything under the rug,” Plummer said. “There’s going to be all kinds of investigations initiated by this.”