Inmate abuse claims spill out
Hillsborough faces claims of two more cases of mistreatment by jail deputies.
By Abbie Vansickle, Times Staff Writer
Published February 21, 2008
TAMPA - It's in the black and white of the X-ray, an arm bone cracked just above the elbow.
Charlana Irving, a 28-year-old exotic dancer and waiter, says she suffered that broken bone at the hands of a detention deputy at the Orient Road Jail.
Irving, who has notified the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office of plans to sue, says that Detention Deputy Milton Fassett, 55, broke her arm inside a holding cell in the jail's booking area, where she was being held May 9 on charges of drunken driving and resisting an officer without violence.
Hers is the third allegation in 10 days against detention deputies at the jail, a facility that booked 72,000 people last year.
First, Brian Sterner, a quadriplegic, claimed a deputy dumped him from his wheelchair. That deputy has since resigned.
Next, Marcella Pourmoghani filed a federal suit, claiming a deputy beat her, causing brain injuries. Her attorney has raised concerns about systemic problems at the facility.
In each case, there's a videotape of the incident.
A fourth incident is also under investigation by the agency, according to sheriff's spokesman J.D. Callaway. It involves the same deputy accused of abuse in the Sterner case, Charlette Marshall-Jones, and inmate Tammy Lynn Mojica, a 34-year-old Wimauma woman who works as a secretary for an aviation consultant.
Mojica was arrested Jan. 10 on a variety of charges, including possession of cocaine and grand theft. She remains in jail on $22,500 bail. Further information on the incident was not available Wednesday evening.
Here's what Irving says happened:
She left work early May 9 and deputies pulled her over and accused her of drunken driving.
When she failed a sobriety test, she asked the deputies to allow a female deputy be called to take her to jail because she was wearing only a slip and a sweater. She said the deputies refused and took her to the Orient Road Jail. She was arrested at 4:07 a.m., jail records show.
There, she said, she was put in a holding cell in booking and got frustrated about not being allowed to call anyone. She said she tried to pass time by braiding her hair and fashioning flowers out of toilet paper but got frustrated and began knocking on the glass cell door.
A deputy yelled at her and came into the cell and told her to put her arms behind her back, she said. Then he left. She kept knocking on the window.
A deputy came back.
"He just rushes into the cell, grabs me by my arm and swings me up against the glass. I said, 'How are you allowed to do this? You're not allowed to beat me up,'" she said. "He said, 'I can do whatever I want.' He twisted my left arm around like twice. He brought his fist up in a 45-degree angle. He brought the entire arm down onto my arm, like a wrestler move or something.
"He then swung me around by that arm," she said. "He started pushing me around. Officers started rushing into the cell. I wasn't resisting or anything. I was just so flabbergasted that I was getting beat up in front of everyone. I was really surprised."
They took her to another cell, she said, and she had to cradle her injured arm with her other arm. She thought it had been pulled from its socket. She said she rocked back and forth, biting the inside of her mouth to distract herself from the pain.
"This pain was horrible," she said. "I picked up my arm and held it up because it was hanging all crazy. It immediately started swelling up. I sat in that cell for like an hour or so."
Then a jail nurse examined her and put the arm into a sling, she said. In her booking mug shot, Irving wears a sling.
When she was released at 1:11 p.m., jail employees had to cut off her jail jumpsuit because she couldn't lift her arm, she said.
Irving said she went to University Community Hospital later in the day and her arm was X-rayed. The time stamp on the X-ray says it was taken at 8:30 p.m.
She left with her arm in another sling. It took four months to heal, she said. Her attorney has instructed her not to talk about the specifics of her medical care.
Sheriff's officials released a statement about Irving's broken arm on Wednesday, saying the deputy had been cleared of wrongdoing. His report of what happened was backed up by the videotape, and it does not "reflect any violations of policy or procedure," sheriff's officials concluded.
They also said they couldn't tell whether Irving hurt her arm before or after entering the jail.
"She complained of an injury to her left arm and was taken to the clinic," the statement reads. "She sustained a fracture to her left arm which was treated by securing her arm in a sling. It is impossible to determine if this injury occurred prior to or after her contact with law enforcement the morning of her arrest."
Fassett could not be reached for comments.
Irving's DUI charge was later reduced to reckless driving. Irving pleaded no contest and got a year of probation, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. State records show she had one prior arrest, a February 2007 charge of driving without a valid license.
The statement from the Sheriff's Office says that Fassett removed Irving from a booking holding cell after trying to calm her verbally four times. Irving resisted him by pulling away and moving around the cell, the statement reads.
"He used only the force necessary to secure her arm behind her back to gain compliance before he let her out of the cell," the statement reads.
Fassett, who joined the agency in 1994, still works as a detention deputy, said sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter.
She confirmed the agency had received a letter of intent to sue from Irving's attorney, Luke Lirot.
A story published in the Tampa Tribune May 6, three days before Irving's arrest, described the demanding job of jail deputies. The story begins with Fassett scanning the scene at the jail's booking area. A drunken man is disobeying orders.
"I told you to do something," Fassett tells him, grabbing the man behind the neck. "You need to do it."
Times researcher John Martin and staff writers Michael Van Sickler, Rebecca Catalanello and Casey Cora contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813 226-3373.