Midtown Raleigh News

Lawsuits against Wake sheriff claim assault and discrimination

As a Wake County detention officer awaits trial on manslaughter charges after the death of an inmate in June, two lawsuits filed in Wake County charge misconduct by other officers in the jail.

One suit filed in June claims that Devaughn Dennell Holmes, 38, of Fuquay-Varina, was held at the jail in 2010 on a warrant that did not exist and was attacked by detention officers during an unauthorized strip search, leaving one of his arms permanently disabled.

The second lawsuit, filed in March by former detention officer Tonya L. Crump, claims that she was the victim of gender discrimination after she was wrongfully fired. Crump claims that other detention officers have violated local and state policies without reprisal. The other officers, who are not named in the lawsuit, include one who had sex in his car while on duty, another charged with drunken driving and a third who fondled and assaulted inmates.

Holmes and Crump are both demanding jury trials and seeking more than $10,000 in compensation.

The Wake County Attorney’s Office is representing Sheriff Donnie Harrison in both cases. County attorney Roger Askew this week declined comment because both cases are pending. In documents filed in civil court, Harrison denies all allegations in the two lawsuits.

The assault claim

The Holmes suit stems from his arrest on Sept. 27, 2010, when he says two Fuquay-Varina police officers showed up at his door and told him he was a wanted fugitive from Maryland, according to his lawsuit.

Holmes was taken to the Wake County jail, where he was subjected to a strip search by the facility’s medical workers, according to the lawsuit. In an affidavit filed with the suit, Holmes said detention officer Michael Hayes gave him jail garb, including a pair of “used and worn underwear which were soiled.”

Holmes said that when he asked Hayes for a clean pair, the detention officer used profanity and threatened him.

Holmes asked to speak with Hayes’ supervisor. Hayes denied his request. “Subsequently, without provocation from Holmes, Hayes and other detention officers wrestled Holmes to the ground,” according to the affidavit

Holmes said Hayes slammed his face into the floor. He claimed he was being beaten by the other detention officers while Hayes forced his knee down on his upper right arm and pulled his forearm backwards until his elbow snapped and broke.

Holmes blacked out. When he regained consciousness, he was handcuffed and alone in a jail cell. Holmes said he repeatedly asked for medical treatment for his elbow. He says his request was denied for at least two hours before the officers who attacked him took him to a nurse, who told Holmes that she could not treat him unless the officers approved. They did not, and Holmes stayed in his cell until the next day when he was released and taken to Rex Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a broken elbow, according to the lawsuit.

The case against Holmes was dismissed Dec. 23, 2010, by the district attorney’s office for lack of a fugitive’s warrant from Maryland.

Holmes does have a criminal record in North Carolina. State records show that he served seven months in prison in 2007 after he violated the conditions of the probation following his 2001 conviction in Wake County for felony breaking and entering and larceny.

The gender bias suit

In her lawsuit, filed March 16, Crump says she was fired in July 2012 for visiting an inmate in another county while she was off-duty. Crump says she did not receive a written warning or any other disciplinary action before her termination.

Crump thinks she was fired because of her gender after witnessing “numerous male employees engaged in behavior that was in contravention to the policies and procedures of Wake County, state law or both. They were not terminated as a consequence of their behavior,” according to the lawsuit.

Crump’s lawsuit cites what she considers nine instances of preferential treatment for her male colleagues.

They include an investigation that confirmed one employee was falsifying documents; a supervisor who was charged with driving while impaired; an employee who was working a second job while on paid medical leave, and an investigation that confirmed a detention officer used excessive force against inmates. The Sheriff’s Office was also aware of an employee who was having sex in his car and of an employee who fondled one inmate and assaulted several others.

Crump also listed two instances where male employees were accused of sexually harassing female colleagues. The men were both demoted but not fired, Crump claims.

In their motion to dismiss the case, Harrison’s lawyers denied that any of the incidents involving other detention officers happened.

Video pauses case

Meanwhile, the detention officer charged with voluntary manslaughter, Markeith Council, appeared in court Sept. 3. Council, 27, is accused of hoisting inmate Shon Demetrius McClain, 40, into the air and slamming him twice on his head and neck on the jail’s concrete floor on June 4.

McClain died more than a week later at WakeMed in Raleigh; he had suffered a broken neck, brain damage and spinal cord injuries, according to an autopsy report from the state medical examiner’s office.

Council has hired Smithfield attorney Craig James to represent him, a spokeswoman at his office said this week.