Sheriff backs 2nd deputy

An alleged beating, caught on videotape, isn't like the wheelchair dumping, officials contend.

By Abbie VanSickle, Times Staff Writer
Published February 20, 2008

TAMPA - Two videos splashed across television screens; two different reactions from law enforcement.

Several times after a television station aired video that showed a deputy dump a quadriplegic man out of his wheelchair at the Orient Road Jail, several top officials at the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office continue to make public apologies.

"It was like a punch in the gut," said Maj. Jim Previtera, the agency's training division commander, on Tuesday. "You know, you put all your energy and your effort into training people and to putting a professional attitude into the deputies. It's very hard for me to put into words the disappointment."

When a second video surfaced, this time showing a detention deputy hitting a woman, the reaction was markedly different.

"I think it was just not put in the proper context," said Sheriff David Gee. "You have to read the deputy's report. It's easy to make judgments. We can all do that. The TV stations, they threw it out there without any context."

Marcella Pourmoghani, 40, filed a federal lawsuit Friday against the sheriff and county, claiming a deputy caused her brain injuries by hitting her. The woman's attorney, Virlyn B. Moore III of Venice, has said the two videos show a systemic problem with the Hillsborough County jails, an accusation that Gee disputed.

Pourmoghani "was acting up," Gee said.

"Once a struggle begins, it's not like on TV. It's not always pretty," he said.

He stressed the importance of putting the video in context.

"It's a jail. You book 75,000 people. You're going to have uses of force in a jail. That's just the reality of it," Gee said.

Previtera declined to talk specifically about that case while the federal suit is pending, but he spoke at length about training. He said that if a deputy is attacked by an inmate, the deputy is allowed to use force, to punch, kick and strike the inmate.

Pourmoghani told reporters that, unprovoked, Deputy Shanna Marsh grabbed her by the hair and repeatedly punched her, bloodying her face. Pourmoghani said her injuries were so bad that she can no longer drive because of seizures.

An attempt to reach her attorney by phone Tuesday was unsuccessful. Moore's wife, Alice G. Moore, said her husband would not comment until he had reviewed the tape released by the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office.

That tape, which has no audio, showed Pourmoghani and the deputy talking. Then, Pourmoghani puts her leg up on a chair, and Marsh grabs her and pulls her to the floor. Pourmoghani appears to wrap her arms around the deputy's leg, and Marsh strikes her several times.

Sheriff's officials said they have reviewed the case three times and found no evidence of wrongdoing by the deputy. Her personnel file showed she received positive evaluations and no history of disciplinary action.

Abbie VanSickle can be reached at vansickle@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3373.