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Guard’s Internet Boasts Expose Jail’s “Culture of Violence”

“Seeing someone get TASER’d is second only to being the guy pulling the trigger. That is money. Puts a smile on your face—My job is sweet sometimes,” wrote Multnomah County Jail Deputy David B. Thompson on an Internet gaming site called “City of Heroes.”

In another posting, Thompson boasted that he “crushed a dude’s eye socket from repeatedly punching him in it, then I charged him with menacing and harassment (of me). He took a plea to get away from me. He shoulda picked somebody else to try to fight.”

Thompson told investigators in 2005 that he repeatedly hit prisoner David M. Baker in the eye, head, and face, because Baker rushed him and grabbed his lapel. Baker pleaded no contest to attempted assault of a public safety officer. The 2005 incident is now the subject of new internal affairs and criminal investigations because of Thompson’s Internet postings, according to sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Jason Gates.

Anytime jailers use force, they are required to complete a use-of-force form, which is retained for five years. Since 2002, Thompson has filed 40 use-of-force forms.

During the first eight months of 2007, Thompson accessed the “City of Heroes” site 1,738 times from his work computer. Although he used an alias, he identified himself as a cop who works in a maximum security jail in Portland, Oregon, according to Gates.

Sheriff’s employees are allowed to use work computers for personal use only while on break, acknowledged Gates. Internal Affairs investigators are assessing whether Thompson violated that policy, and whether his comments violate rules against discrediting the agency or the profession.

County officials don’t have a problem with what Thompson said, only where he said it. Gates acknowledged that Thompson’s comments “discredit our profession,” but said guards “joking” among themselves is not a problem. Posting inflammatory comments on the Internet, however, crosses a line, according to Gates. “When you make that public, we’re not OK with that.”

Saying nothing of the prisoner whose eye socket was “crushed” from Thompson’s “repeated” blows, Gates says “one of the biggest victims with this kind of nonsense are the men and women who work for the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. We are not in the business of beating people up. Unfortunately, we have an individual who apparently does have that attitude.”

Despite that acknowledgment, as well as internal and criminal investigation into Thompson’s conduct, he has not been placed on administrative leave, according to Gates, because he hasn’t been accused of any crimes.

Days after news of Thompson’s abuse broke, on September 12, 2007, three men filed suit, alleging that other jail deputies attacked them without cause shortly after being brought into the Multnomah County Jail. Plaintiffs’ lawyers describe the incidents as part of a “culture of violence” within the downtown jail.

Among the cases is one based upon jail surveillance videos which surfaced on YouTube, depicting two guards punching Michael Evans during his booking on a domestic violence charge in September, 2006. Similar suits were filed on behalf of Mitchell Elliott and Frank Coleman who were beaten by guards during booking on drunken driving charges in March and June, 2007.

Plaintiffs are represented by civil rights lawyers Benjamin Haile and Leah Greenwald, who said numerous other former prisoners have contacted them with similar claims. One former prisoner showed photographs of a black eye he says guards inflicted.

“We’ve been getting a series of calls about very violent attacks,” said Haile. “We’re hoping the sheriff will seriously investigate these and address these problems.”

President of the guards’ union, Sgt. Phil Anderchuk, however, quickly dismissed the accusations, arguing that deputies are forced to make quick, tough decisions when booking unruly people into jail. “We have strict policies governing when we can use force,” noted Anderchuk. “In these cases, the deputies acted appropriately and honorably.” Gates refused to comment, citing the pending litigation, but asserted that even a spoken threat can merit force if the person appears to have the means—such as size and proximity—to attack a guard.

Anderchuk said the guards involved in the YouTube incident were cleared of wrongdoing by internal affairs. Yet, the FBI is now investigating the incident. “We’d be interested in any specific and credible allegations that were similar to Mr. Evans’ complaint,” said FBI spokesman Mike Sweeney.

The current incidents are quite similar to a rash of prisoner assaults and deaths at the jail in 2000 which also prompted an FBI investigation, according to Greenwald. That investigation caused the sheriff’s office to remodel the booking area and install the video surveillance system that spawned the YouTube video.

It’s not likely Plaintiffs’ hopes that the sheriff will seriously investigate the address the problems will be realized. Rather, it appears Sheriff Bernie Giusto is likely more the cause of, rather than the solution to, problems in the jail. We’ve recently reported on the scathing prosecutor’s report on problems in the jail and Sheriff Giusto’s defiant reaction. Additionally, Oregon’s police licensing agency is presently considering numerous complaints of Giusto lying about significant public matters, including former Governer Neil Goldschmidt’s long-term sexual abuse of a teenage girl. “The staff believes there may be a violation,” said Eriks Gabliks, deputy director of the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training. “But we don’t make that decision.” A hearing will be held on the matter in January, 2008. If a violation is found, Giusto will likely lose his license and be forced to resign. We will report on developments in all of these cases.

Source: The Oregonian

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