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Toss From Wheelchair Brings Jail Suspensions

Tampa Tribune
Wednesday February 13, 2008

TAMPA - A deputy roughly dumps a man out of a wheelchair, and he tumbles to the floor.

Brian Sterner lands on his ribs, then rolls over and lies on his back while Hillsborough County Detention Deputy Charlette Marshall-Jones checks his pockets before she and another deputy put him back in the chair.

These moments were recorded Jan. 29 by cameras in Orient Road Jail. The video has repulsed many and resulted in the suspension of Marshall-Jones, a 44-year-old deputy with 22 years on the job, and her supervisors.

Sterner, 32, can drive a car, but he hasn't been able to walk for 14 years.

He said he told Marshall-Jones as much when he was booked into jail on a traffic-related charge.

She didn't believe him, he said.

Sheriff David Gee said he was at a loss for words after viewing the video.

"This was not a training issue," Gee said late Tuesday. "It's a human decency issue. I can't imagine any explanation she might have.

"It's like being a blackjack dealer in Vegas," the sheriff said of the surveillance system. "I put those cameras in there for a reason. They're to protect the deputies as much as the suspects who are brought in."

Deputies arrested Sterner, 32, on a warrant from Tampa police at his home in Riverview. He posted bail and was freed Feb. 3.

Gee said he was told by his staff that Marshall-Jones has a good record and there have been no similar complaints against her.

The sheriff is in Jacksonville at a Florida Sheriff's Association meeting, leaving Chief Deputy Jose Docobo in command.

After watching the tape Monday, Docobo ordered Marshall-Jones to be immediately suspended without pay, he said. Three of her supervisors who were visible on the tape were suspended with pay.

'Indefensible, At Every Level'

"The actions are indefensible, at every level," Docobo said. "Based on what I saw, anything short of dismissal would be inappropriate."

Sterner's attorney, John Trevena, said he wants Marshall-Jones charged with felony battery and wants her supervisors to be disciplined and to undergo mandatory retraining so that this kind of incident is not repeated.

Gee said he spoke to Trevena early Tuesday evening and conveyed his feelings on the matter.

"I'm embarrassed, professionally and personally," the sheriff said. "I can't offer an explanation."

An internal affairs investigation is reviewing the actions by Marshall-Jones and the three supervisors: Cpl. Decondra Williams, 36; Cpl. Steve Dickey, 45; and Sgt. Gary Hinson, 51. Investigators had not interviewed the deputy or her supervisors, Docobo said.

No reports were filed about the incident, so investigators are trying to determine what the supervisors knew, Docobo said. Each of the three appears at various times on the video, but none intervenes with Marshall-Jones. Dickey walks into the frame from the side and appears to smile as he walks away.

"That none of the supervisors acted upon what they saw is of great concern," Docobo said. "This is not the norm at the sheriff's office. It's an aberration."

Full article here.

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