Two correctional officers at an Ohio jail pleaded guilty Tuesday to beating a mentally ill inmate strapped to a chair, in a gruesome assault that was captured on surveillance video.
The officers, Nicholas Evans and Timothy Dugan, were accused of restraining and repeatedly punching Terrance Debose in a March attack at the embattled Cuyahoga County Jail, where six inmates died in a four-month span last year. Evans pleaded guilty Tuesday to felony assault and tampering with evidence — he turned off his body camera before beating Debose, who has an undiagnosed mental illness — while Dugan pleaded guilty to attempted abduction and misdemeanor assault, according to Cleveland.com.
Both men are currently on unpaid leave from the jail, and have agreed to resign from their positions after their sentencing in December. In the meantime, they’re out on bail.
Evans and Dugan were indicted by a grand jury in April as their jail became the subject of increasingly harsh state and federal scrutiny due to alleged civil rights violations and inmate deaths. Surveillance video from the assault showed Evans and Dugan dragging Debose — who was strapped to a chair at the time — into an isolation cell.
Pinned to the chair and unable to defend himself, the officers punched Debose in the face repeatedly. He was then left there for two hours, bleeding, according to Cleveland.com. He suffered a concussion as a result of the beating. Debose is black; the two correctional officers are white.
By the time of Debose’s March 22 beating, the U.S. Marshals Service had already notified the county that the jail’s conditions were "inhumane," noting that inmates there told investigators they feared retaliation if they aired civil rights complaints.
One Cleveland judge had even declared he would no longer jail non-violent offenders in the Cuyahoga County jail, where six inmates had died in a four-month span. (Eight inmates died in the jail last year, overall.) The number of inmates in Cuyahoga County’s jail has dropped since that declaration, but the jail is still exceeding its capacity of 1,765 inmates, according to WEWS-TV, a local ABC affiliate.
Debose was initially jailed there on charges of cocaine possession and evidence tampering, according to Cleveland.com, and later charged with aggravated burglary, felonious assault, and theft. He pleaded guilty to those charges and was sentenced to two years of probation.
“Inmates do not surrender their human dignity along with their freedom,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said in a statement. “These two men abused their authority to pound a prisoner strapped to a chair. We wouldn’t stand for a dog to be treated like that – let alone by someone exercising the authority of the state.”
Evans and Dugan weren’t the only corrections officers to be charged with some sort of crime last April, either. Five other correctional officers were also indicted that month on separate offenses related to allegations of beating up inmates, falsifying records, and denying inmates medical care.
The jail’s former associate warden, Eric Ivey, was also indicted in April on allegations that he ordered a corrections officer to turn off their body camera during an investigation into the overdose death of an inmate in August 2018, and then falsified statements about that incident. Ivey was sentenced to probation earlier this month and has agreed to cooperate with investigators as they continue to probe the jail.
Dugan has also agreed to cooperate with investigators, according to Cleveland.com. Evans hasn’t agreed to cooperate.
Cover: This Feb. 20, 2019 shows The Cuyahoga County Corrections Center, in Cleveland. The Cuyahoga County Corrections Center in downtown Cleveland has been under increasing scrutiny since the deaths of seven prisoners over a four-month period last year and the release of a scathing report by the U.S. Marshals Service that called conditions at the jail "inhumane" and unsafe for prisoners and staff. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)