Why a former sheriff's captain won't go to jail for pepper-spraying case that gained national attention

Judith Sealey committed a crime when she pepper-spayed a restrained inmate in the Montgomery County Jail in November 2015, but the former Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office captain won’t have to spend time in the facility she once helped manage.

Sealey on Tuesday pleaded guilty fourth-degree misdemeanor disorderly conduct and failure to desist for pepper-spraying inmate Amber Swink in the face on Nov. 15, 2015.

RELATED: Plea deal reached in jail pepper-spray case

The video of Sealey blasting Swink – who sued and settled out of court for $375,000 – became national news.

Along with 10 other recent lawsuits against jail personnel, the incident sparked calls for change from county commissioners, the formation of a jail oversight committee and a federal investigation. Federal officials haven’t announced any findings.

RELATED: No plea deal yet in jail pepper spray case

Four of the lawsuits settled out of court, and the county won one case that went to a U.S. District Court jury.

Calling it “fair, just and equitable,” visiting Judge Chris Martin formerly of Fairfield County sentenced Sealey to up to five years’ community control, court costs, a $50 fine and a 30-day jail sentence which was suspended.

RELATED: Jail captain in pepper-spray case takes medical retirement

The case had been set for trial Tuesday before both sides filed a motion last week that said a plea agreement had been reached.

“Guilty,” Sealey said softly when asked by Martin for her plea. Sealey sat during the entire hearing and did not give a statement before sentencing.

RELATED: New trial date set for former jail captain’s trial

After the hearing, Sealey and her supporters were allowed to leave the courtroom through a private exit.

The original charge of third-degree misdemeanor assault was amended downward as part of a plea deal in which Sealey lost and won’t re-seek any Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy certifications.

SPECIAL PROJECT: Justice in the Jailhouse: Lawsuits, accusations plague region’s county jails

Sealey, who was a sergeant during the pepper-spraying incident and was promoted before the video came to light, retired last year on medical disability.

“Sergeant Sealey definitely made a mistake and exercised poor judgment in this incident,” Sheriff Phil Plummer told this news organization. “But don’t let this incident define her character or dedicated service throughout her career.”

RELATED: Former jail sergeant alleges cover-up of pepper-spray incident

Plummer has said Sealey was disciplined for not filing a use of force report, but not for her actions. He said he didn't know of the incident until he saw it online.

Cincinnati assistant prosecutors Natalia Harris and William Horsley– who handled the case to negate any Dayton prosecutor appearance of a conflict of interest – declined comment.

RELATED: Complete timeline of pepper-spray incident at Montgomery County Jail

In court, Harris said prosecutors recommended probation during which Sealey didn’t have to report. The maximum sentence for the amended charge could have been 30 days in jail and a $250 fine.

Defense attorney Anthony VanNoy said Sealey faithfully served the community as a law enforcement officer for more than 20 years.

RELATED: Captain in pepper spray ‘did not break the law,’ attorney says

“The tragedy is that sometimes in life, a momentary lapse causes significant harm to one’s name or reputation,” VanNoy said. “But Judy Sealey is not the sum total of those few seconds depicted in this case.”

Several current or former jail employees were served subpoenas in the case, during which a grand jury declined felony charges. Witnesses now will not testify about issues relating to missing documentation.

MORE: Read other stories from Mark Gokavi

Plummer said that because Sealey has retired, there will be no further internal investigation.

Swink did not attend Sealey’s sentencing.

“Ms. Sealey, if she could take it back, she would,” VanNoy said.

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Swink’s civil attorney, Douglas Brannon, has said he won’t comment further about Sealey due to a confidentiality agreement.

Video of the pepper-spraying became public when Brannon, posted it on his website. Brannon has other active clients suing the county.


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