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$437,500 Settlement for Brutal Beating at Missouri Jail

A pretrial detainee who was brutally beaten without cause by guards at Missouri’s Jackson County Detention Center (JCDC) accepted $437,500 to settle his civil rights suit.

James J. Ramirez was being held in the medical wing at JCDC after his arrest on a probation violation. He was suffering from alcohol withdrawal when, around 7:00 p.m. on July 4, 2015, he was “walking through the unit, unaware of his surroundings and disoriented.” According to guard Shavon Brown, who documented the entire incident, Ramirez did not pose any threat to provoke the brutal attack that ensued.

As Brown observed and surveillance video cameras recorded, guards Terrance Dooley, Jr., Travis Hewitt and Dakota Pearce “used extreme and excessive force to restrain” Ramirez. They slammed him against a wall and repeatedly punched him in the face, abdomen and back. They kneed him in the back and sides of his abdomen. Once Ramirez was on the ground, Hewitt pressed his knee into Ramirez’s neck while Pearce jammed his knee into his back.

Because they knew the surveillance camera was making an audio recording, the guards “deceitfully and repeatedly yelled, ‘stop resisting,’” according to Ramirez’s lawsuit. The beating did not stop until guard Irene Haines sounded a warning that another staff member was approaching. At that point, Hewitt and Pearce changed Ramirez’s position to make it appear they were following policy. Ramirez was returned to a holding cell and did not receive any medical care.

Shortly thereafter, Hewitt and Pearce were joined by another jailer, Jen-I Pulos, as they removed Ramirez from the cell and continued to assault him. The complaint alleged that Dooley, Hewitt, Pearce and Pulos bragged about the beating and boasted they would not be reprimanded. “Their comments and attitude speak to the culture and climate of JCDC, and the belief by JCDC employees that they would never be held accountable, even for vicious and illegal behavior,” Ramirez stated in his suit.

It was not until 4:00 a.m. on July 5, 2015 that Ramirez was finally taken to a hospital, allegedly for an “altered mental state and alcohol withdrawal.” Emergency room personnel reported he was “alert, oriented, calm, and cooperative.” An examination revealed he had suffered “bruises to his face, chest, abdomen, hands, and wrists, nine (9) fractured ribs, broken wrists, a collapsed lung, and three fractured vertebrae.”

When transport guards were asked about the injuries, they said Ramirez “was making a shank and attempting to assault one of the C.O.s at the prison.” No such claim was made on any of the reports filed by the guards.

Federal officials became involved, and Dooley, Hewitt, Pearce and Pulos were charged in April 2017 with conspiracy and deprivation of civil rights. Additionally, Hewitt was charged with falsification of records for falsely claiming that Ramirez bit him. Hewitt and Pearce were acting sergeants at the jail, while Pulos and Dooley were members of the CERT response team.

Represented by the Kansas City law firm of McGonagle Spencer Gahagan, PC and the Criterion Law Firm, Ramirez filed a civil rights complaint in state court. It settled on July 10, 2017 for $437,500, inclusive of attorneys’ fees. See: Ramirez v. Jackson County, Jackson Co. Circuit Court (MO), Case No. 1716-CV 15268. 

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Related legal case

Ramirez v. Jackson County