By TESA CULLI
MT. VERNON — A federal lawsuit has been filed claiming that two Jefferson County deputies tased three children numerous times and assaulted another last year at the Southern 30 Adolescent Center.
The lawsuit was filed by the guardian of the four, who are identified as B.B., R.E., Z.P. and Megan Geisler, who is a foster child that does not live at the center. The lawsuit names Jefferson County, Jefferson County Sheriff Roger Mulch and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Deputies David Bowers and Lonnie Lawler as the defendants.
The incident allegedly happened on July 4, 2008, when law enforcement was called to help staff at the center control two 12-year-olds and an 11-year old — who are not the defendants — and in the common area of the center “acting out.” The lawsuit specifies the three defendants were not the youth that prompted the call to police, according to the lawsuit.
“Without any physical provocation and/or physical gestures from R.E., Deputy David Bowers physically pushed R.E. towards his bunk and shocked him repeatedly with a taser,” the lawsuit alleges. “R.E. was tased multiple times to multiple locations on his person, including, but not limited to, his neck. Deputy Bowers shouted to B.B. to lie down in his bunk and physically forced him to lie down. Without physical provocation and/or physical gestures from B.B., Deputy Bowers held B.B. down on his bed and shocked him repeatedly with a taser. While he was tasing B.B., Deputy David Bowers threatened to sodomize B.B. As a result of this repeated and excessive tasing, B.B. urinated and defecated himself. Deputy David Bowers was aware that B.B. urinated himself after the tasing.
“Shortly thereafter, Deputy David Bowers and Deputy Lonnie Lawler shouted at Z.P. to sit on the couches in the common room. Z.P. sat on the couches. Without any physical provocation and/or threatening physical gestures from Z.P., Deputy David Bowers ordered Deputy Lonnie Lawler to handcuff Z.P. While Deputy Lonnie Lawler was placing the handcuffs on Z.P., Deputy David Bowers began to shock him repeatedly with the taser. Z.P.was tased multiple times to multiple locations on his person.
“As Z.P. was being repeatedly tased, Megan Geisler pleaded with Deputy David Bowers and Deputy Lonnie Lawler to stop. Deputy David Bowers ordered Deputy Lonnie Lawler to handcuff Megan Geisler. Once in handcuffs, Deputy David Bowers approached Megan Geisler with his taser withdrawn as if to use it on her. Deputy David Bowers grabbed Megan Geisler by her arms, lifted her off her feet, and carried her through the male dormitory to a nearby closet. On the way to the closet, Deputy David Bowers lifted Megan Geisler off the ground, pressed her against a wall and choked her. While choking her, Deputy David Bowers said, ‘do you want to live or die bitch’ to Megan Geisler. Megan Geisler was then thrown into a closet. At this time she began vomiting and heaving.”
The lawsuit also contends that Jefferson County, the Sheriff’s Office and Mulch “caused deputies to believe that the excessive and unreasonable use of force would not be aggressively, honestly and properly investigated, with the forseeable result that deputies are more likely to use excessive force against plaintiffs and others in the future.”
Bowers and Lawler, as individuals have been sued for excessive force and excessive force/failure to intervene, for allegedly depriving the three youth of the rights, privileges and immunities secured by the Constitution “including but not limited to those secured in the Fourth and 14th Amendments to the Constitution” and acting with “willful and wanton disregard for the constitutional rights of plaintiffs.” The lawsuit states the three sustained physical, emotional and other damages as a result of the incident as well as “loss of freedom and liberty, bodily injury, pain and suffering, psychological damage, emotional distress” and asks the court to award undisclosed punitive damages, the cost of the lawsuit, attorneys’ fees and any other relief the court deems equitable and just.”
The two deputies are also accused of assault and battery, stating “the beatings and/or tasings, verbal abuse, and use of non-deadly force ... when defendants had no lawful authority to arrest plaintiffs when (they) were unarmed and did not pose a threat of death or grievous bodily injury, or bodily injury to defendants or others.”
Another count against the deputies is intentional infliction of emotional distress, charging Bowers and Lawler with intentionally beating or tasing and verbally abusing the youths that was done “with actual malice and wanton indifference to and deliberate disregard for human life and rights.”
Both deputies as well as Mulch and the county have also been charged with negligence in the civil lawsuit.
Mulch, in his official capacity as sheriff, as well as the county, is accused of, through policy and practice to “authorize certain police deputies, including defendants ... to cover up the use of excessive force despite the lack of probable cause to arrest. This policy and practice of Jefferson County Sheriff Roger Mulch encouraged and caused constitutional violations by deputies.”
In addition, it contends Mulch “knowingly or with deliberate indifference failed to adequately train, direct, supervise, or control defendant deputies so as to prevent the violation of plaintiff’s constitutional rights” and Mulch “had a policy expressly authorizing the use of excessive force, including tasing, in unreasonable and/or unneeded situations.”
“This policy improperly authorized the use of more than the amount of force that would be reasonably necessary in the circumstances at hand, and allowed the use of such excessive force when no ordinarily prudent officer would do so in such situations.”
A demand for a jury trial has been filed in the case.
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