Three former inmates of the Prince George's County detention center allege in a suit filed yesterday in federal court that county corrections officers violated their civil rights by beating them during two separate incidents. Two of the former inmates said they suffered broken ribs as a result of the beatings.
The lawsuit, the second filed in two months accusing county jail officers of excessive force, alleges that members of the Corrections Department's Emergency Response Team administered the beatings, held down the inmates while they were assaulted or watched the beatings without interfering. It names the county and 18 separate officers as defendants.
The suit also contends that corrections officials have done little to stop such incidents, that they do not investigate them thoroughly and that they fail to hold officers accountable when they use excessive force.
The allegations in the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, are similar to those in a suit filed by Christopher Byron Simms, 29, who alleges he suffered permanent brain damage when he was beaten at the detention center a year ago. Two of the officers named in the latest suit--Cpl. Kenneth Bruce and Cpl. Kenneth Mack--are also named in Simms's suit.
The FBI is investigating the Simms incident. That probe is at least the third ongoing federal investigation of alleged excessive force by county law enforcement officers.
"Corrections officers act with impunity when they believe they work in a system in which they won't be held accountable," said Alisa A. Wilkins, the Washington lawyer representing the former inmates who filed the latest lawsuit. "[County officers] know they won't be investigated or disciplined."
The former inmates who filed suit are Ricky J. Butler, 40, of the District; Henry Fuchs, 33, of Silver Spring; and Richard Robey, 36, of Hyattsville.
Butler alleges in the lawsuit that he was beaten by county corrections officers on May 31, 1997, after he protested being placed in crowded cells.
Fuchs contends that he was beaten on Sept. 9, 1996, after he refused a corrections officer's order to put down his comb and deodorant and exchanged words with the officer, according to the suit. Robey alleges that he was beaten after he told officers assaulting Fuchs, "he's had enough."
Deputy County Attorney John Bielec, whose office will defend the county and the corrections officers, said the allegations are "without merit."
Bielec said Butler was restrained by corrections officers after he began hitting his head against his cell door. The deputy county attorney said that Fuchs and Robey attacked a corrections officer and that another inmate called out for officers to help.
Butler was incarcerated after being arrested on a bench warrant for failing to pay a $50 court fine, according to the lawsuit. It alleges that when Butler was placed in a cell with about 40 others, he knocked on the cell door, told an officer the cell was too crowded and asked to be transferred to any other cell, even an isolation cell.
According to the lawsuit, Butler was put into another crowded cell, and he banged on the door of that cell and asked to be moved again. Three officers then ordered all of the inmates, except Butler, to leave the cell, the suit alleges.
Seven Emergency Response Team officers stormed the cell, knocked Butler onto his stomach and punched and kicked him in the head, according to the lawsuit. Butler was handcuffed, and the beating continued, according to the lawsuit.
When he was examined later at a hospital, the lawsuit alleges, Butler was diagnosed as having three broken ribs.
Fuchs, who was incarcerated on a Montgomery County burglary warrant, was about to be transferred there when an officer told him to put down a comb and deodorant, according to the lawsuit. Fuchs didn't, and the officer pushed Fuchs against a wall and slugged him in the face, according to the lawsuit.
The officer called for help, and ERT officers arrived and beat Fuchs in the face, torso, back and head, and then beat Robey when he told officers that Fuchs had had enough, according to the lawsuit. Fuchs suffered two broken ribs, a cut lip and other injuries, and Robey required sutures to his head, according to the lawsuit.
Staff writer Katherine Shaver contributed to this report.