'Demon' made him do it? Officials don't buy it

A toilet was flushed 11 times in front of a needy inmate, an inquiry shows.

By JONATHAN ABEL, Times Staff Writer
Published November 30, 2007

It wasn't sadism or cruelty that caused Sgt. Thomas Mahoney to flush a toilet drain eight times until a restrained inmate urinated on himself.

No, Mahoney said, it was a demon. In the plumbing.

"I had like a fear of having my head smashed into the exposed plumbing behind the plate," Mahoney told internal affairs investigators from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

"At one point the plumbing was exposed because it was broken, because it wasn't used, so somehow this object became a demon to me. I know it had nothing to do with that inmate. I just wanted those pipes to continue to work so I wouldn't get my face smashed," Mahoney said.

But officials didn't buy it.

Mahoney, who joined the Sheriff's Office in 1998, resigned the day before his case went before the Administrative Review Board and avoids its consequences.

Two others who flushed the toilet in the cell - Cpl. Ryan Key and Deputy Christopher Turcotte - face suspensions of one and five days, respectively.

Cpl. Joseph Shwallon, Deputy Armando Mirelez Jr. and Deputy Joseph Sigmund all received written reprimands for submitting inaccurate reports regarding the toilet-flushing.

The situation began just after midnight June 9, when Jeffrey Faulk was taken into custody on DUI and marijuana possession charges.

Faulk told investigators he was slammed against a wall head-first, given a charley horse and Tasered, all before being restrained in a chair.

Faulk said he was a calm victim. But corrections officers said Faulk was belligerent, throwing his shirt at one deputy and threatening to pummel another.

He said he had been drinking that night and was not given the opportunity to use the toilet after he was locked into the chair.

According to his statement, the deputies left him in the restraint chair for an hour. Then a sergeant came in to question him. When the sergeant didn't get the answers he wanted, he ordered that Faulk be left in the chair.

Faulk said the next two hours were excruciating.

There was a drain on the floor of the holding cell that could be flushed like a toilet in case an inmate soiled the area. It made a loud flushing sound.

The investigation showed that over the course of three hours, corrections officers flushed the drain 11 times for no reason with Mahoney responsible for eight of the flushes.

Here's how Faulk remembered it:

"About an hour into it, you know, wrist hurting, can't really feel my thumb or anything any more, got to go to the bathroom pretty bad," he said, "I'm like, 'Come on, guys. Come on.' They wouldn't let me out."

The flushing continued and eventually Faulk broke down and urinated.

Mahoney, however, maintained that he meant no ill will toward Faulk. He said he didn't realize he was flushing so frequently until the investigation was launched and he was shown a video of the events.

He said he was thankful to be confronted with the evidence.

"Up until this point I had never had the privilege to view my life from a third person or camera perspective," he said.

With the investigation looming, he sought help from a licensed mental health counsellor, who referred him to a psychiatrist.

But Mahoney told investigators he has cured himself, now that he is conscious of this fear.

The internal affairs investigators went back to the beginning of July and found the only time Mahoney showed the compulsion to flush toilets was when inmates were placed in the restraint chair.

The investigators interviewed psychologist Vincent Skotko, who had evaluated Mahoney's mental fitness for duty.

"Is there any possibility that his alleged fear of these pipes and the demons could only happen if there's an inmate in that cell in that restraint chair?" one investigator asked.

"It's highly unlikely," Skotko said, "and it really strains the imagination to believe that would be the case."

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.