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Complaint alleges Cuyahoga County jail officers kicked handcuffed inmate in genitals, pepper-sprayed him, and failed to decontaminate him

Friday, April 10, 2020

Complaint alleges that corrections officers, enabled by County’s inhumane policies and practices, violently attacked inmate, and deliberately prolonged his suffering based on his race.

CLEVELAND, OH — Today, Michael Roarty-Nugent filed a lawsuit in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas against Cuyahoga County, County Executive Armond Budish; former-Chief of Staff Earl Leiken; interim-Director of Cuyahoga County Jails George Taylor; former-Sheriff Clifford Pinkney; former-Director of Regional Corrections Kenneth Mills; former-Warden Eric Ivey; and corrections officers Steven Boardman, Sandra Johnson, Bruce R. Smith III, and Russell Graham.

Roarty-Nugent’s complaint alleges that on April 4, 2018, Johnson called upon Boardman, Smith, and Graham to retaliate against Roarty-Nugent for a petty perceived slight following his request for an extra carton of milk at breakfast. Johnson accused him of disrespecting her and trying to push his cell door toward her. The complaint alleges that Johnson called Boardman, a corporal in the jail, to retaliate against Roarty-Nugent.

According to the complaint, corrections officers Boardman, Smith, and Graham handcuffed Roarty-Nugent and told him they were escorting him to the hole. The complaint alleges that they took him to a different location, where Smith slammed the handcuffed Roarty-Nugent facedown onto the ground and the officers kicked him all over his body, including directly in his genitals. The complaint alleges that Smith then pepper sprayed Roarty-Nugent in the face at close range.

The complaint alleges that after this attack, while Roarty-Nugent’s face and chest were covered with burning pepper foam, Smith and Graham tied Roarty-Nugent into a restraint chair. The complaint alleges that the officers splashed Roarty-Nugent three times, which did not adequately “decontaminate” him, leaving pepper foam on his face and body. According to the complaint, corrections officers treated Roarty-Nugent differently than at least one similarly situated white inmate, who received more effective decontamination.

The complaint alleges that after sloshing water onto Roarty-Nugent’s face, the officers left in the restraint chair with pepper foam soaking his face and body for four hours. According to the complaint, Roarty-Nugent begged for medical care during this time but received none. After he was freed from the restraint chair, jail records show that Roarty-Nugent was forced to spend 11 days in the hole.

According to the complaint, Roarty-Nugent never resisted the officers throughout this ordeal.

The complaint alleges that during Roarty-Nugent’s first night in the hole, Boardman, Smith, Graham, and other corrections officers came to his cell and threatened to “come in here in the middle of the night and finish the job.”

The complaint includes claims against the corrections officers for violating Roarty-Nugent’s constitutional rights by using excessive force and by failing to promptly and effectively decontaminate him. The complaint makes civil claims against the officers for their criminal acts, including intimidation, unlawful restraint, interfering with civil rights, and assault. The complaint also alleges that Boardman and Graham violated Roarty-Nugent’s constitutional rights through deliberate indifference and—when Smith attacked Roarty-Nugent with pepper spray—failing to intervene to stop excessive force.

The complaint alleges the County violated Roarty-Nugent’s constitutional rights by having customs, policies, patterns, and practices that tolerated excessive force; that failed to promptly and effectively decontaminate inmates exposed to chemical agents; and that unreasonably restrained inmates (including those subjected to chemical agents). The complaint makes claims against the County for deliberate indifference and failure to train and supervise jail personnel, including on how to decontaminate inmates; for racially disparate decontamination practices; and for deliberate indifference to legitimate medical needs. The complaint also makes claims against the County for reckless training, supervision, discipline, staffing, and retention; for destruction of public records; and for spoliation of evidence.

The complaint includes claims against Budish, Leiken, Taylor, Pinkney, Mills, and Ivey for violating Mr. Roarty-Nugent’s constitutional rights by deliberate indifference and failure to train and supervise jail personnel and for civil liability based on their alleged criminal acts of dereliction of duty and interfering with civil rights.

The complaint makes claims against Johnson, Smith, and Graham for filing false reports after the attack.

Roarty-Nugent’s counsel, Subodh Chandra, said regarding the complaint: “These officers’ actions epitomize the jail’s cruelly punitive practices. There is no excuse for kicking or pepper spraying a handcuffed person. These officers’ sadistic actions are consistent with the inhumane treatment found by the U.S. Marshals Report and the County’s own Inspector General when they investigated the jail. Mr. Roarty-Nugent demands redress and accountability from the officers as well as the County and leaders, who created and nurtured the jail’s toxic culture of vindictive brutality.”

Subodh Chandra, another attorney for Roarty-Nugent, added, “The county’s failure to resolve the many cases of prisoners who have faced such abuse does not reflect well on county leadership, including both the county prosecutor and county executive. We hope they will understand that when the county’s own Inspector General finds jail conditions barbaric, victims deserve swift justice.”

Sletvold, Subodh Chandra and Patrick Haney of The Chandra Law Firm LLC represent Michael Roarty-Nugent.

The complaint may be viewed here.

Chandra Law represents many victims of Cuyahoga County jail abuse, along with the whistleblower of that abuse. Links to information about those matters can be found through this page.

Related Practice Areas
Government Ethics, Misconduct, Fraud, & AbusePolice Misconduct & Brutality

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