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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Brian Sterner, 32, assisted by driver Andy Oberfeld, enters the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Operations Center in Ybor City on Friday to speak with investigators.
TAMPA -- The deputy accused of dumping an inmate out of a wheelchair is headed to jail.
Hillsborough detention Deputy Charlette Marshall-Jones faces a felony charge of abuse of a disabled person in connection with a now infamous videotaped incident in which a quadriplegic inmate was tossed onto the jail floor to be searched.
"What happened to Mr. Sterner was a disgrace. It was also a crime," said Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee at a news conference late Friday.
Marshall-Jones, 44, had been notified of a warrant for her arrest, he said. Deputies did not know her whereabouts late Friday, but expected her to surrender.
Brian Sterner, 32, was being booked into Orient Road Jail on Jan. 29 when surveillance cameras showed Marshall-Jones pushing him from his chair to the floor, then conducting a body search of the paralyzed man before hoisting him back in his chair.
"It's exactly the charge we had asked for," Sterner's attorney, John Trevena said after Gee announced the warrant. "I wouldn't be surprised if there are more charges forthcoming."
Trevena said Sterner told deputies for the first time Friday about another painful episode that happened minutes after the wheelchair dump, but it was not captured on video.
Speaking earlier in the week, Sterner told the St. Petersburg Times that when deputies attempted to fingerprint him, he could not reach the fingerprinting machine and was placed in some kind of a painful hold in order to complete the process.
Trevena said Marshall-Jones and another deputy were both involved in that incident.
Gee said he apologized to Sterner face-to-face during their first meeting Friday night.
"To say this is unacceptable is an understatement," Gee said during the news conference. "I will not attempt to explain why this deputy dumped this man from his wheelchair. There can be no rational explanation. I don't think I will ever understand the reasoning for such actions."
Until late Friday, sheriff's officials had been unable to speak with Sterner, of Riverview, because he spent much of the week in New York making appearances on national television shows like Today. News of Sterner's treatment first broke on Monday night during a WTSP-Ch. 10 newscast.
Sterner arrived at the Sheriff's Operations Center in Ybor City just after 5 p.m. Friday in an airport limousine. He struggled to get out as reporters swarmed the passenger's side. His legs shook uncontrollably. As he made his way up a handicap ramp, he stopped his wheelchair in front of the center and looked up at the ceiling. Internal affairs Sgt. Danny Tewmey opened the front doors to allow Sterner inside.
Besides offering words of contrition to Sterner, Gee publicly asked the forgiveness of citizens for the incident, which he said has "brought disgrace on this office and every employee here."
"What occurred on Jan. 29 was not about the lack of training or policy," he said. "This was about the inexcusable and the indefensible actions of one deputy."
Despite the charge against her, Marshall-Jones remained an employee of the Sheriff's Office late Friday and was on unpaid leave status.
A second employee, Cpl. Decondra Williams, was moved from paid leave to unpaid status in connection with the incident. Meanwhile, two other deputies are still suspended with pay.
Gee's late announcement of a warrant for his own detention deputy was the second time Friday he spoke publicly about the matter this week. Earlier in the day, he told reporters the Jan. 29 incident has been difficult for the department. He said his employees do their jobs well and are well-regarded in the community.
Like others who have seen the recording, Gee said the Sheriff's Office is "horrified by" the way trained deputies handled Sterner.
"It's unfortunate that one person can undo a lot of that public trust and public confidence," Gee said from the steps of the Sheriff's Operation Center in Ybor City. "I find that very hurtful."
He said it isn't symptomatic of a widespread problem in county jails. "I think you have a case where people who should have taken action didn't," he said. "I'm hoping this is just an isolated incident to this one event."
Gee said he couldn't fathom what motivated Marshall-Jones to dump Sterner, or why other deputies didn't report it.
"I don't know what was really happening, what was being said," he said. "Unfortunately, there is no audio to those videos."
Sterner's attorney dismissed the importance of this.
"I don't think it makes any difference. ... My client denies there was any verbal provocation, and the video certainly indicates no verbal provocation by the robotic, expressionless faces of all the detention deputies," he said. "If someone had said something incendiary, racial or otherwise, you would have seen some kind of reaction from the people."