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February 13, 2008 - Seattle Times (WA)

Deputies Suspended For Wheelchair Dump

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TAMPA, Fla. -- Four sheriff's deputies have been suspended after purposely tipping a paralyzed man out of his wheelchair onto a jailhouse floor, authorities said.

Surveillance footage from Jan. 29 shows Hillsborough County deputy Charlette Marshall-Jones, 44, dumping Brian Sterner out of his wheelchair and searching him on the floor after he was brought in on a warrant after a traffic violation.

Sterner, 32, said when he was taken into a booking room and told to stand up, Jones grew agitated when he told her that he could not.

"She was irked that I wasn't complying to what she was telling me to do," he told The Tampa Tribune in Tuesday's edition. "It didn't register with her that she was asking me to do something I can't do."

Sterner can drive a car but has not been able to walk since a 1994 wrestling accident. He has no feeling below his sternum and has partial use of his arms.

Jones has been suspended without pay, and Sgt. Gary Hinson, 51, Cpl. Steven Dickey, 45 and Cpl. Decondra Williams, 36 have also been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said.

"The actions are indefensible at every level," Chief Deputy Jose Docobo said. "Based on what I saw, anything short of dismissal would be inappropriate."

A woman who answered Jones' telephone said Jones was unavailable. A message left at a telephone number listed for a Steven Dickey in Tampa was not immediately returned Tuesday night. Listings for Hinson and Williams could not be located.

Sterner was arrested at his Riverview home and taken to the Orient Road Jail on a charge of fleeing and attempting to elude a police officer, according to records. He posted $2,000 bond and was released Feb 3.

A warrant for Sterner's arrest was issued after an Oct. 25 incident, in which police stopped him while driving a car fitted with hand pedals and cited him for blocking an intersection.

"My client was stopped that night and was given a traffic citation, so how could he be fleeing and eluding?" Sterner's lawyer John Trevena said. "We're very skeptical about the basis for the charge itself."

Trevena said he hopes authorities investigate the deputies for criminal charges. He said he was "mortified" when he watched the footage.

"I couldn't believe that a detention deputy would be so callous toward an individual, whether they were disabled or not," he said.

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