Inside the jail, Dehmann smiled while speaking to deputies as they stripped him of his shoes and sunglasses. When an officer removed his handcuffs, Dehmann patted the deputy on the shoulder, then tried to hug him.
Somehow, the shoe-less drunkard doling out hugs would suddenly become a threat in the eyes of his jailers, however. As deputies led Dehmann to his cell, a scuffle suddenly broke out. Dehmann tried to hit an officer in the face, “causing Deputy [Chase] Wright to place Mr. Dehmann into a takedown hold, taking him to the ground to get control of him.”
“Once control was gained, it was found that Mr. Dehmann had hit his head on the floor during the incident,” deputies wrote in a report.
Paramedics put a neck brace on Dehmann and sent him to a hospital on a stretcher.
Dehmann would never get up. He died two days later.
The bizarre in-custody death enraged Dehmann’s family and friends. “I want to know what happened when my boy’s head hit that concrete,” said his father, David A. Dehmann. “I want to know what happened.”
Now he does. Last week, the Knox County Sheriff’s Department released surveillance footage of the incident. The video shows Dehmann’s last moments, but it also raises questions about Wright’s use of force.
The incident is just the latest in a string of highly publicized deaths involving police officers, including those of Walter Scott in South Carolina and Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Scott’s death was caught on videotape by a bystander. Gray’s was not, leading to intense speculation about injuries Gray may have sustained while in police custody.
Three cameras recorded Dehmann’s last moments. Their footage shows deputies helping the drunken man into the Mount Vernon Jail, then talking to him as they collect his belongings. At one point, Dehmann tries to hug a deputy but is rejected, slumping his shoulders in disappointment.
As deputies began leading him towards his cell, Dehmann points toward a female officer as if to say goodbye. Then he points towards Wright, a hulking officer with a sharp buzzcut.
Wright slaps the inmate’s hand away. Then the situation spins violently out of control.
Dehmann reaches toward Wright’s face. The deputy reacts by sidestepping, then lifting Dehmann up into the air and slamming him hard to the ground. The officers handcuff Dehmann once more, but then notice that he isn’t moving and call for an ambulance.
“We got a phone call at 4:00 a.m. from his mom just stating that he was in Grant Medical Center with head trauma and we need to get there,” said Dehmann’s stepmother, Melissa.
Dehmann died just after midnight the next day, April 23.
Dehmann, whose family called him Levi, was a troubled young man. Court records show cops had arrested him more than a dozen times, including at least six instances involving alcohol or drugs. He was twice charged with petty theft and twice more with domestic violence. His family has claimed Dehmann had autism and Tourette’s Syndrome.
“He might have had his issues in the past and everything,” his stepmother said. “But, he didn’t deserve to die because of this.”
Despite the video, it’s still not completely clear what caused Dehmann’s death.
On the afternoon of April 21, Mount Vernon Police were on patrol when someone flagged down an officer to complain of a half-naked man vomiting nearby. When Officer Nicholas Myrda found Dehmann, he had blood on his face, according to the Columbus Dispatch. Dehmann reportedly told cops that he drank a bottle of vodka and a bottle of mouthwash before falling and hitting his head. He was taken to the hospital and released at 6 p.m. An officer gave him a ride to his aunt’s house.
Less than two hours later, however, police responded to reports of a disturbance at an elementary school. They found Dehmann at the school’s baseball field bathrooms, drunk again. He was “barely holding himself up” with a bottle of vodka in his pocket, according to the Dispatch.
Inside a cop’s cruiser, however, Dehmann “hit the Plexiglas cage, messed with the camera and spit on the passenger-side window,” according to a police report.
The incident at the jail happened less than half an hour later.
Officials have not yet released an autopsy report on Dehmann. Wright has been placed on administrative leave as Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation conducts an inquiry.
Dehmann’s family has not spoken since the video footage became public. They did not respond to requests for comment.
But the death has clearly riled the community. Flyers announcing “Op Justice for Levi” have circulated on Facebook, some of them calling for locals to flood Mount Vernon’s central square this Saturday — and to bring their guns.
“Many concerned people have already decided to come together; Democrat, Republican, young, old, every nationality of American and every broken-hearted voter watching their country circle the drain,” says one flyer claiming links to something called Three Percent Militia.
“When our systems fail us we must learn (again) what it is to rely on ourselves and take responsibility for our own lands and communities. No one else is going to do this work and what is in place is not working i.e. Pills, Heroin and now police violence/murder in our own backyards. Too many have worked too hard for too long for us to be remembered as those that lost everything.
“We encourage everyone to bring a covered dish/drinks and exercise your 2nd amendment by bringing your firearms. This makes many people feel much safer at these events and encourages knowledge on our Constitution [sic]. Thank you and join fellow free men and women while we still can.”
Comments on local media Web sites alternated between defenses of Wright and outrage.
“When you attempt to fight an officer, chances are you will be taken down,” wrote one commenter on WBNS-10 TV. “Unfortunate that he hit his head, but I am POSITIVE that the officer did not intend to hurt him.”
“That cop is a murderer,” another commenter wrote. “He killed that man out of anger and everyone defending him is an accomplice.”