Attorneys for a former inmate at the Wake County jail say in a federal lawsuit that a detention officer slammed the inmate into a wall and bench because he did not keep his mouth open for observation for several minutes during a strip search.
The lawsuit, filed late Wednesday, also accuses Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison of running a jail that fails to properly investigate detention officers' beatings of inmates in places where surveillance cameras are not in place to observe what happened.
Eugene Dunston, 50, a Wake County resident, is one of three inmates who suffered injuries during strip searches by the same detention officer, Michael J. Hayes, in the past 15 months, according to the inmates or their families. Dunston said he suffered a deep gash over one eye and a torn ear.
Jail officials have disputed the claims of assault and abuse, and Hayes, 38, has not received suspensions or demotions for any of the incidents. On Thursday, a sheriff's spokeswoman, Phyllis Stephens, said the sheriff and jail staff would have no comment because of the pending litigation.
Another of the three inmates, Joshua Martin Wrenn, 30, of Benson was in a coma for months after Hayes struck him in the head with his fist on April 3. Wrenn is now in a rehabilitation facility and cannot talk, walk or feed himself, according to hisfamily.
Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby declined to press charges after a State Bureau of Investigation probe. Willoughby said Hayes had used necessary force after Wrenn came at him. Willoughby also said Wrenn likely had a pre-existing condition such as an aneurysm that burst after the single blow.
Another former inmate, Devaughn Holmes, 36, of Fuquay-Varina, said Hayes broke his right arm in a struggle during a strip search on Sept. 27, 2010, because Holmes did not want to wear what he described as soiled underwear. Jail officials say he did not report the broken arm. Medical records from the night after he left the jail show it was broken just below the elbow.
Dunston's lawsuit said that while he was naked and in handcuffs, Hayes, a body builder, slammed him head first into the wall and bench. Dunston said Hayes was angry because Dunston had closed his mouth during the strip search before Hayes had told him he could. Detention officers look into the mouths of incoming prisoners to make sure they are not bringing contraband into the prison.
Dunston said Hayes had made him keep his mouth open for roughly 10 minutes, and he closed it because it ached.
In the lawsuit, Dunston also alleges another officer, Waco Douglas Jr., beat him a year earlier on a cell floor. Dunston sought the video, but the sheriff's department would not produce it, he said.
In the end, he said he pleaded guilty to assaulting Douglas, as part of a deal to be released for time served. Douglas also is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
The strip-search rooms did not have surveillance cameras when Dunston, Holmes and Wrenn were handled by Hayes.
Last month, the jail installed cameras in them, and on the day of Dunston's injuries, Hayes was transferred out of the booking area and into a jail annex that houses well-behaved inmates.
Jail officials have said Hayes' transfer had nothing to do with the injury claims, but they declined to say whether the cameras were installed in response to them.
Raleigh attorneys Gregory Kash and Eric Doggett are representing Dunston. Last month, they filed a separate federal lawsuit on his behalf alleging a Raleigh police officer, Daniel P. Egan, broke Dunston's leg during an improper stop in 2008.
Dunston also has won a $9,000 settlement from the state Department of Correction to settle a lawsuit in which he accused correction officers of roughing him up in 2001.