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Published: Saturday, 10/11/2008

Ex-corrections officer denies assaulting 4 inmates in jail

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Bunke Bunke
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Seth Bunke acknowledged that while working as a corrections officer in the Lucas County jail, he would have to make split-second decisions on how to respond to inmates sometimes involving the use of force.

But despite the allegations of federal prosecutors, he testified in U.S. District Court in Toledo yesterday that he never threw an inmate into a wall or kicked another repeatedly in the head and side.

After two days of testimony about his actions during his 10-month employment with the sheriff's office, Mr. Bunke told jurors yesterday his version of what occurred within the jail's walls.

Mr. Bunke, 26, now of Jacksonville, N.C., faces five counts of deprivation of rights under the color of law.

He 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.

'At any time did you inflict force on an inmate for the purpose of punishment?' defense attorney Rick Kerger asked.

'Absolutely not,' Mr. Bunke responded.

Mr. Bunke testified for a total of more than 2 hours yesterday, which included extensive questioning from federal prosecutors.

Eric Gibson, a prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice's civil rights division, questioned Mr. Bunke about the testimony from many of his former colleagues who witnessed various portions of the five incidents and testified that his actions were not consistent with corrections officer training.

He asked if the two corrections officers who saw Mr. Bunke kick Jeffrey Jones an inmate who was struggling with officers on July 11, 2007 were incorrect.

He also asked if officers were mistaken for testifying that Mr. Bunke slammed an inmate into an attorney booth on July 10, 2007, and that he dragged another inmate out of his cell on May 5, 2007.

Mr. Bunke said that they were.

He acknowledged that corrections officer training included appropriate use-of-force guidelines and the constitutional rights of inmates.

He testified that the inmates involved in the incidents had either disobeyed verbal commands or had been physically aggressive before he used any form of force.

The defense called five witnesses yesterday, including Sheriff James Telb and Jones, who was incarcerated at the time on a probation violation on a drug charge.

Sheriff Telb testified that staffing of five or six officers on a floor as was the case during Mr. Bunke's employment is considered understaffed. He also said

that each of his staff members is trained in civil rights of inmates and appropriate use of force.

Jones, who since has sued the department for his injuries, testified about the incident. Called to the stand by Mr. Kerger, Jones acknowledged that he did not say at the time of the incident that he had been kicked or identify Mr. Bunke as the man who assaulted him.

Mr. Bunke said later when questioned by prosecutors that had he kicked Jones, the inmate likely would be dead.

'If I had kicked him in the head with steel-toed boots, he wouldn't have been here to testify. I'm a big guy. I'm six-foot-six, 275 pounds, and I'm pretty strong,' he said.

Mr. Bunke, a Marine Corps veteran, resigned from the sheriff's department in July, 2007, just days after the incident involving Jones. He moved to North Carolina but returned to Toledo in February when he was arrested.

The trial will resume Tuesday with Judge Jack Zouhary presiding.

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.



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