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2 testify they saw ex-Lucas County officer assault inmate

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The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
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While Jeffrey Jones was face to the floor and struggling with Lucas County sheriff's officers to avoid being handcuffed, corrections officer Seth Bunke kicked him multiple times in the head and side, his former colleagues testified yesterday.

During the first day of testimony in Mr. Bunke's criminal trial in U.S. District Court in Toledo, several witnesses testified about incidents during Mr. Bunke's 10-month employment with the sheriff's office when federal prosecutors contend he abused his authority.

Included as witnesses were correction officers Robert Elizondo and Curtis McQueary, both of whom said they saw some portion of the July 11, 2007, incident that led to Jones being hospitalized.

They also testified about seeing blood on Mr. Bunke's boot after the incident.

Mr. Bunke, 26, now of Jacksonville, N.C., faces five counts of deprivation of rights under the color of law. Mr. Bunke, who was employed as a corrections officer between September, 2006, and July, 2007, is charged with assaulting four inmates at the jail and with portraying himself as a police officer when he stopped a driver he suspected of drunken driving.

Defense attorneys contended that Mr. Bunke acted by the book in the jail's hostile environment and that an officer often must respond to an escalating situation within seconds.

Attorney Rick Kerger questioned the corrections officers who testified yesterday about Jones' volatile and uncooperative behavior when he was being transferred from another floor in the jail. The men said that the inmate was disobeying verbal commands, taunting the officers, and at one time, was suspected of trying to bite one of the men.

But although both men said they did not want to testify against a fellow officer, they both said the force used by Mr. Bunke was not allowed as part of their training.

Mr. McQueary will return to the witness stand this morning to be questioned by defense attorneys when the trial resumes.

Photos of Jones' injuries were displayed for the 11 women and three men of the jury that showed bruises on the right side of his body and two black eyes, or "raccoon eyes," which are usually a result of a high energy impact to the skull, Dr. Thomas Sterling of St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center testified. Dr. Sterling treated Jones on July 11, 2007, for bruises on the forehead, an injured shoulder, and collapsed lung.

The injuries, the doctor testified, were consistent with an assault.

Among the nine witnesses who testified yesterday was retired sheriff's Lt. Robert Leist, who said he was asked by the upper command in the sheriff's office to talk to Mr. Bunke in December, 2006, about use of force, constitutional rights, and legal issues concerning citizens and inmates. Lieutenant Leist testified that it was the first and only time he had been asked to have such a discussion.

"We had a 45-minute meeting in regards to constitutional rights and due process and continuum of force," he said, adding that he told Mr. Bunke "that inmates as well as citizens have constitutional rights. That's the framework of law enforcement in the United States, that we had to protect these constitutional rights."

Lieutenant Leist acknowledged that Mr. Bunke responded favorably to the meeting and that he was not asked to speak to him again.

He also said that the jail is a volatile place and he had no specific knowledge of the incidents for which Mr. Bunke was being charged.

Early yesterday, jurors visited the fifth floor of the jail where Jones was allegedly assaulted.

Also testifying yesterday were those involved in a March 13, 2007, incident when Mr. Bunke allegedly told two men that he was a police officer after suspecting them of driving drunk. The two men who were in the car testified that Mr. Bunke ordered the men to drive from where they were stopped to a nearby gas station where other officers were called.

Deputy Dennis Wilichowski testified that he was ordered by a superior to take Mr. Bunke's corrections officer badge and identification card at the scene. The two men, it was determined, had not been drinking.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.

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