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Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011 08:31 am

Jury finds jailers didn’t use excessive force

Both sides agree the jail is not a library

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It took a federal jury less than 90 minutes last week to decide that Sangamon County jailers did no wrong during a struggle with an inmate who claimed that guards used excessive force to subdue him.

Despite pleading guilty to a misdemeanor battery charge stemming from a Sept. 23, 2006, struggle with guards in a holding cell, Reginald Dale sued the county and several corrections officers involved in the altercation.

According to court documents filed by attorneys for the county, Dale struck a guard in the face when corrections officers attempted to move him from a cell because he was yelling, threatening guards and pounding his fists against the glass of the cell in the jail’s booking area, inciting other inmates.

County attorneys acknowledge that the guard who was punched had pushed Dale away from the cell door, but only after Dale assumed an aggressive posture and ignored orders to move away from the door.

Guards deployed Tasers four times during the struggle, which lasted less than two minutes, according to court documents. Dale, who had been jailed on a warrant for allegedly obstructing or resisting police, didn’t seek medical attention after the struggle, county attorneys say, and photographs of his body taken six hours after the altercation showed minimal injuries.

“It was not until six or seven months after the incident that plaintiff even claims that he began to experience any injuries that he attributes to this incident,” county attorneys wrote in a pretrial brief.

Howard Feldman, Dale’s lawyer, said that his client suffered bruises and headaches. Each Taser stun was the equivalent of being hit with a baseball bat, he added.

“He very strongly believed that the correctional officers attacked him without cause and used excessive force,” Feldman said.

In a deposition, Dale said that he might have threatened guards and that he felt no obligation to behave in a professional manner because the county jail is not a library, according to court documents.

Andrew Ramage, an attorney who represented the county and jailers, concurred.

“It definitely is not a library,” Ramage said. “We cannot lose control of the jail at any cost.”

County administrator Brian McFadden said the county has paid more than $29,000 in legal fees to defend the case and expects the final tab, including trial costs, to reach nearly $50,000.

While settling cases can be cheaper than going to court, Chief Deputy Jack Campbell of the Sangamon County Sheriff’s Office said that such tactics can encourage more lawsuits.

“We feel that our department acted appropriately,” Campbell said. “We will defend them (jail guards) to the hilt when we feel they haven’t done anything wrong.”

Court records show that Dale received a seven-day sentence after pleading guilty to a battery charge filed for punching the guard.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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