Cuyahoga County Jail officer convicted in attack on inmate suspended 15 days

By Adam Ferrise - (TNS)

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cuyahoga County suspended a corrections officer for 15 days without pay after he pleaded guilty to knocking out an inmate’s teeth.

Officer John Wilson, who pleaded guilty in February to a misdemeanor charge of assault, will start serving his suspension on Wednesday.

Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association union attorney Adam Chaloupka said the union would not appeal the decision.

“We think it’s fair, but we’re not saying he used unreasonable force,” Chaloupka said. “It’s the end of a very long process, and he’s ready to go back to work and resume his life.”

Chaloupka said the union and county are negotiating how much back pay Wilson might receive for the four months he was on unpaid leave after the county prosecutor’s office brought charges against him in April 2019.

Wilson is one of 11 jail officials or officers charged in the Ohio Attorney General’s Office criminal probe of the jail.

The charges range from inmate beatings to a former warden obstructing a death investigation and the former jail director accused of purposefully lying to county officials to block the hiring of nurses, making the jail unsafe, according to prosecutors.

Wilson is part of the jail’s Special Response Team, known as the “Men in Black” for their paramilitary gear. A November 2018 U.S. Marshals Service report singled out the unit for beating and threatening inmates.

Wilson faced charges of felonious assault, unlawful restraint and abduction. A jury found him not guilty of abduction, but deadlocked on the other charges, resulting in a mistrial. The jury voted 11-1 to acquit Wilson. All 11 white jurors voted to acquit Wilson while the lone Black juror voted guilty.

The jury also acquitted co-defendant Cpl. Jason Jozwiak of charges in connection with the aftermath of the incident.

Instead of going to trial a second time, Wilson pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge, which allows him to continue working as a corrections officer. A judge sentenced to probation, 250 hours of community service and to pay a $500 fine.

No video of the altercation exists. Wilson was not wearing a body camera at the time of the incident, which happened inside a jail cell out of view of surveillance cameras.

The incident happened Feb. 5, 2018. Then-inmate Joshua Castleberry, a U.S. Army veteran, testified that he asked Wilson for a new sandwich because the bread was stale.

Castleberry testified that Wilson refused. Wilson went into Castleberry’s cell and ordered Castleberry to face the wall. Castleberry testified he complied with Wilson’s order.

Wilson shot pepper-foam in Castleberry’s face, put him in handcuffs and slammed his head on the concrete floor several times.

Three of Castleberry’s teeth were knocked out, including one that lodged in his nasal cavity and required surgery.

Another officer’s body camera video showed Castleberry gushing blood from his mouth. Officers strapped him to a restraint chair and left him bloodied and alone in a room by himself for several hours.

Wilson, also a U.S. Army veteran, testified that Castleberry refused his orders to face the wall during a cell search and that Castleberry turned from the wall and clenched his fist. Wilson said he shot pepper-foam in Castleberry’s face, and Castleberry punched him in the head.

He grabbed Castleberry, spun him around and slammed him to the ground, Wilson testified. Wilson said he suffered a concussion from the punch.

Castleberry in February sued Cuyahoga County, Wilson, Jozwiak and other jail employees in U.S. District Court. The case is on-going.

By Adam Ferrise (TNS)

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