LIMA — Marilyn Beaupre isn’t defending her brother’s criminal record, but she still has questions for those that arrested him.
“I just want the (Allen County) sheriff’s department to tell me what happened and why they beat up my brother,” Beaupre said.
Ever since her 70-year-old brother returned from prison covered in bruises, Beaupre has been trying to figure out how Lonnie Gentry had been treated during a Sept. 2017 arrest by Allen County deputies.
Pictures and health records tell one story. In a set of photos Beaupre said were taken a month after the incident, Gentry stares back at the camera with a bloodshot eye surrounded by purple and red bruising. Hospital reports from the same time period detail the extensive wounds that led to an apparent $145,000 health bill and Gentry losing the eye.
Since the incident, Beaupre said her brother had been shuffled between prison and hospital as he went through subsequent treatments. His last stay at the hospital happened this last May when he died of Covid-19.
“I think this should not have happened. People should not be beaten,” Beaupre said. “I just want something done about it.”
Graham v. Connor
While Beaupre’s search started in 2017, her answer to “why?” her brother ended up bruised had already been answered in 1989 by the United States Supreme Court in one of the most important use-of-force cases in modern times, Graham v. Connor. In that case, a diabetic man in need of orange juice popped into a convenience store and quickly left when he couldn’t find what he needed. An officer later pulled him over when he noticed the suspicious interaction.
Eventually, the officer returned Dethorne Graham home with no charges, but Graham suffered a number of injuries during the arrest due in part because of the officer’s inability to understand diabetic shock. Graham later sued, and the case went to the Supreme Court.
The court’s ruling?
The use of force by an officer must be objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances confronting the officer. In other words, no matter how bad things look in hindsight, if an officer reacted reasonably to what he or she knew at the time, then the officer responded correctly.
Since then, other factors have been added and clarified via the court system, but the main point has stayed the same.
“Everyone after the fact has hours, months, days, years, to review and pick apart the incident. The officer doesn’t have that luxury,” Lima Police Chief Kevin Martin said. “When it comes to preserving life, physical health and property, we have to make decisions much more quickly.”
In practice, that means things can get really complicated really quickly, and the details can muddle how “reasonable” a certain response can be. For example, Martin explained how the exact same actions can signify different danger levels depending on the person doing the action. An aggressive threat from a 240-pound man, for example, would reasonably require a different response than an aggressive threat from a 120-pound woman, Martin said. Add weapons, drugs and even an officer’s presence into the mix, and pretty soon, those in law enforcement have a lot of different scenarios that they could run into.
With that said, law enforcement agencies usually have a use-of-force policy that officers must use while doing their jobs. Martin said the Lima Police Department’s policy is crafted from the International Association of Chiefs of Police standard with some minor tweaks added to better fit it to Ohio’s laws and Lima’s needs. Maj. Todd Mohler with the Allen County Sheriff’s Office said his office has an in-house policy, and he said that he doubted that it differed too much from LPD’s.
Both policies are updated to better correlate with case law and to include evolving police techniques, such as the use of tasers.
While case law determines the legality of a police officer’s actions, law enforcement still has the responsibility to ensure they’re having the best reactions to a situation.
Training can help in that aspect. Police are trained on how to approach a number of typical calls such as traffic stops and domestic violence situations, but they’re also required to approach certain situations where there is little prior experience, which can cause problems.
Martin encourages continuous training for officers just for that reason, especially as case law changes. He said he’s been hearing elected officials talk about allocating more funds for training, but he’s worried that it’ll be just a one-time investment.
“(Training) has to be continual,” Martin said. “We need more training today. We’ll need more training a year from now.”
Outside of training, Mohler said officers usually react to a situation according to his or her strengths. If a suspect is resisting arrest, they’re going to go for the tool they can use best.
“Deputies, police officers and state troopers are still people. They’re not versed in martial arts, judo, or ground grappling. That might not be their forte or what they’re interested in,” Mohler said.
Some officers, too, are just better at de-escalating a situation through talking and conversation. A different officer might use a taser in the same situation.
“One thing that people don’t realize, it’s not our goal to go out and arrest people. That’s one thing we like to avoid is arresting people,” Mohler said. “We don’t go out there and say ‘let’s arrest 20 people tonight.’ That’s not a goal for our guys.”
Lonnie Gentry’s 2017 arrest — the incident that convinced Beaupre to start asking questions — is laid out in three-different written narratives by deputies on scene at the time. Beaupre said she could not get a copy after requesting it.
According to the arrest narrative, deputies arrived at Gentry’s estranged wife’s residence in the morning after another resident in the neighborhood reported him there. His wife, Catherine Smith, had earlier filed a protection order against Gentry, and he was violating it.
Deputies also noted that Gentry had at least four warrants for his arrest, and there was a gun at the residence owned by Smith.
Upon arrival just after 10:30 a.m., law enforcement immediately set up a perimeter and asked Gentry to exit the building via a loudspeaker. He stayed inside, and his wife, Catherine Smith, left calmly out the backdoor.
Subsequent questioning of Smith laid out the early morning’s events. Apparently, Gentry had somehow broken into the house early in the morning and woke Smith up. Smith seemed nonchalant about the whole situation, according to Sgt. Dana Sutherland’s report.
“At no time during our conversation did Catherine appear to be concerned about the events of the day,” Sutherland reported.
Meanwhile, the 70-year-old Gentry fumed inside as deputies used the loudspeaker outside. Eventually, he stood near the backdoor while on the phone with dispatchers, and Sutherland took the opportunity to snatch Gentry out of the house and handcuff him. Apparently, Sutherland was worried about Gentry falling down the basement steps nearby if officers were to rush the house.
Gentry, who weighed 120-pounds at the time, dropped a three-inch long kitchen knife during the struggle. Sutherland then handed the handcuffed man over to other officers, who included Lt. Dan Howard.
“Lonnie was extremely agitated and verbally belligerent towards deputies,” Howard reported. “The tirade of belittling deputies continued until Lonnie lunged head first towards my head, brushing my right cheek and chin. Lonnie was instinctively taken to the ground by deputies in an attempt to gain compliance.”
At this point was when Lonnie suffered “head and cheek lacerations.” Deputy Robert Winterstellar recalled the incident in more detail in his report.
“Lonnie then turned towards Lt. Howard. While pulling him back, Lonnie attempted to kick Lt. Howard while breaking free from Lt. Sarchet. This knocked me off balance. While having my arms around Lonnie, we twisted and fell causing Lonnie to strike the right side of his face on the sidewalk.”
Deputies immediately requested an EMS, and Gentry was taken to Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center and later sent to a hospital in Columbus for further treatment.
Officers interviewed for this piece encouraged anyone alleging police mistreatment to file a complaint to the corresponding office. Any complaints filed with the Allen County Sheriff’s Office also requires the complaint to be notarized for legal standing.
If a resident is unsatisfied with the outcome, a secondary option is to use the courts system.
While Graham v. Connor currently informs use-of-force case law, it is worth noting that it’s ruling does have some critics due to its use in the exoneration of the officers involved in a number of high profile shooting deaths.
A legal challenge could potentially overturn it, but that’s an argument for the courts.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.