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South Carolina Sheriff Fires Whistleblower Instead of Jailer Who Assaulted Prisoner

After a guard at a South Carolina jail repeatedly struck a prisoner who was being strapped into a restraint chair, York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant took decisive action. He fired the jailer who told a television station and state investigators about a video recording of the incident. Nothing was done to the guard who struck the prisoner, who later died due to unrelated causes.

Joshua Grose, 34, was violently mentally ill when he was arrested for fatally running over his stepmother and a neighbor with a stolen car. He was booked into the York County Detention Center in October 2013. Two days later, Grose died in a restraint chair from self-inflicted injuries he received banging his head against a cell wall. [See: PLN, Aug. 2016, p.28].

Because he was the second jail prisoner to die in the restraint chair, Bryant held a news conference and showed hours of video coverage of jailers attempting to subdue a struggling Grose, who writhed and spit on them. Included in the footage was video showing a deputy striking Grose in the abdomen repeatedly as Grose was being strapped into the chair.

That portion caught jail guard Mike Billioni’s attention. He discussed the disturbing footage with his wife, an employee of NBC Charlotte affiliate WCNC, telling her he “didn’t want it swept under the rug.”

“You restrain them,” said Billioni. “That’s what you’re supposed to do; but to strike an inmate. I’ve never been trained to strike an inmate.”

They took their concerns to the television station’s I-Team and the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED). SLED took Billioni’s statement and the sheriff fired him days later.

Bryant continued to support the actions of the deputy who assaulted Grose. “I worked jail deaths as a SLED agent, and I can tell you this – I have not found any wrongdoing on any officer’s part,” he said.

If so, then Sheriff Bryant needs to reassess the policies at his jail. If Grose’s bleeding head wounds were self-inflicted, then they must have occurred before he was put in the restraint chair, and thus he should have been transported to a hospital instead of being restrained at the jail. Further, if jail policies permit the striking of a restrained mentally ill prisoner, they are in need of revision.

Billioni filed suit against the York County Sheriff’s Office in July 2014, claiming his free speech rights were violated when he was fired after speaking out about the Grose incident. The case remains pending with a trial date scheduled in February 2017. See: Billioni v. Bryant, U.S.D.C. (D. SC), Case No. 0:14-cv-03060-JMC.

Additional sources:, Associated Press

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Related legal case

Billioni v. Bryant