One day before his 65th birthday, in August 2010, Gary Willis Baumgardner was arrested for DUI and booked into the Clackamas County Jail. His blood-alcohol content was .22 percent – nearly three times Oregon’s legal limit of .08. He was so drunk, belligerent and uncooperative that jail guards locked him in an isolation cell to sleep it off.
About four hours later, veteran guard Troy Alan Steiner, 44, entered the cell, awakened Baumgardner and escorted him down the hall. At 230 pounds, Steiner weighed almost twice as much as Baumgardner, whose movement was limited by a broken rib.
Steiner later filed a “use of force report” indicating he had had a struggle with Baumgardner, which triggered an internal investigation and Steiner’s December 10, 2010 indictment on several misdemeanor charges. He was arrested, placed on administrative leave and subsequently “medically laid off” due to a non-work related injury, according to a sheriff’s spokesman.
“We’ve got a set of standards to uphold,” said Undersheriff David Kirby, who runs the county’s corrections division. “We’re trying to hold our people accountable.”
Noting that Steiner was the third jail guard to face criminal charges in two years, Kirby said the case against him was part of Sheriff Craig Roberts’ efforts to improve professionalism in the jail.
At trial, Steiner testified that Baumgardner was aggressive and threatened to physically harm him. Unfortunately for Steiner, however, if a picture is worth a thousand words then a video is worth much more.
Silent jail video footage showed Baumgardner slowly shuffling out of his cell. He stopped in the corridor and glanced back. Steiner then assaulted Baumgardner, who had his back turned.
Steiner “slammed [Baumgardner] into a concrete wall like a rag doll and threw him down to the floor,” stated Deputy District Attorney Scott Healy. “This was a very violent attack on a very feeble old man.”
Naturally, defense attorney Steven L. Myers characterized the encounter much differently, claiming that Steiner was merely using leverage to control Baumgardner, who suffered cuts and bruises during the incident. Myers argued that Baumgardner simply tripped and fell because he was still drunk and had poor balance.
The jury wasn’t convinced. After 2½ days of conflicting testimony, the jurors deliberated two hours before convicting Steiner of assault in the fourth degree, official misconduct in the first degree and harassment – all misdemeanors.
Having previously received commendations and absent a prior criminal record, it seemed unlikely that Steiner would face jail time. Yet after the jury verdict, Clackamas County Judge Ronald D. Thom suggested otherwise. “Mr. Steiner, I was fully prepared to take you into custody today,” he said. “And there is a high likelihood that you will be taken into cus-tody when you return to court.”
When Steiner appeared for his May 7, 2012 sentencing, the judge made good on his earlier statement, imposing a 30-day jail sentence and a two-year term of probation.
Judge Thom noted that law enforcement officials must deal with difficult people all the time. “Lippy drunks are probably the most disagreeable,” Thom acknowledged. “What is troubling to me ... is you lost it.” Thom told Steiner his sentence could have been less severe had he been honest about his actions. Instead, said Thom, “you came to court and lied about it.”
The Board of Public Safety Standards and Training is expected to revoke Steiner’s law enforcement certification, ending his 10-year career as an Oregon jail guard.
Baumgardner had filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Steiner and Clackamas County officials, but the case was dismissed in March 2012 due to lack of prosecution.
Source: The Oregonian
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