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Punched in the Head

New Allegations of a Rough Pattern in Jail Discipline

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A NEW REPORT written by an Oregon use-of-force instructor makes troubling allegations about Multnomah County Detention Center (MCDC) deputies routinely punching inmates in the head as a control technique.

The report, a copy of which was obtained by the Mercury last week, is written by Howard Webb, an independent use-of-force consultant and expert witness who worked for the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training between 1988 to 1999.

As part of a federal lawsuit going to trial on December 8, attorneys for Michael Evans asked Webb to watch video of Evans being beaten by deputies in the booking area of the downtown MCDC in September 2006 ["Summary Injustice," News, July 19, 2007].

In the video, Sheriff's Deputy Richard Hathaway kicks, then punches Evans four times, bringing him to the ground. In a use-of-force report on the September 11, 2006 incident, Hathaway wrote that he controlled Evans using two "focused blows" with his right closed fist, after Evans "struck me in the nose during booking."

Webb describes the force used on Evans as "unreasonable and excessive," in his report, adding that Hathaway was not struck in the nose.

Evans has since been jailed for having sex with a minor and on assault charges. He has a lengthy criminal history and is unlikely to see his release before 2020. He also recently wrote the Mercury from prison, encouraging us to cover the civil trial related to his beating. Evans' attorney, Benjamin Haile, declined comment with trial pending and is seeking $60,000 in damages for the assault, in addition to $360,000 in punitive damages.

It is likely that attorneys for the county will invoke Evans' character as their main defense against the allegations concerning his beating. But regardless of the Evans case, Webb appears to have also uncovered a broader pattern of excessive force at the jail based on his review of use-of-force reports.

"It is my opinion that there is a pattern of the use of excessive force on inmates by correction deputies," he writes in the report, a copy of which can be downloaded from the Mercury's website. "In reviewing the Hazardous Incident Reports provided to me, I observed a pattern of deputies using excessive force by striking inmates with closed fists on the face, head, back, and abdomen."

Often, Webb writes, such force is used when inmates are only offering "passive" or "static" resistance to jail deputies, like refusing to be fingerprinted or to sign booking forms. But the use of such force should only be used when inmates pose an "immediate threat" to jail deputies, under Oregon training guidelines. The use of pepper spray or so-called pressure points would be "more reasonable," he says.

Webb goes on to cite 28 examples of excessive force by corrections deputies, drawn from a review of their own reports, between 2003 and 2006. Examples of the force described include an inmate being punched in the face while deputies restrained her on the floor, after she refused to sign a property receipt for her ring, which had been cut off. There are several other examples of inmates being punched and struck in the face while being restrained by other deputies, and of having excessive force used against them after offering only passive or static resistance.

Jail conditions are reviewed once a year by a special corrections grand jury convened by District Attorney Mike Schrunk's office.

"We take complaints by inmates about that sort of behavior very seriously," says Schrunk.

Schrunk's colleague, Deputy District Attorney Chuck French, convenes the grand jury every year, and says there were "significant issues" with use of force at the jail in 2000 and 2001, but that since the establishment of the open booking area, where Evans' beating took place, there has been a reduction in the number of use-of-force incidents.

"I don't perceive there's a huge amount of use-of-force problems in the jail now," he says, agreeing at the Mercury's request to review Webb's report, nonetheless. He had no further comment on it by press time.

Meanwhile, Webb writes that one possible cause of the pattern he has observed is a "deliberate indifference to the problem" by "command and supervisory staff."

The Multnomah County Sheriff's Office has been through tumultuous times since the resignation of former Sheriff Bernie Giusto in July 2008, in the midst of a state ethics probe. Giusto's replacement, Bob Skipper, twice failed to pass statewide certification tests and retired in September, to be replaced by interim sheriff Dan Staton, who declined comment for this story. Staton's replacement will be appointed after an election next year.

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