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Published: Friday, 4/17/2009

Record says ex-officer faced choking, lying claims before

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Sgt. John Gray, 70, had been investigated twice for alleged choking incidents and once for allegedly lying to investigators. Sgt. John Gray, 70, had been investigated twice for alleged choking incidents and once for allegedly lying to investigators.
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Federal charges this week that a former Lucas County jail official used a "sleeper hold" on an inmate before he died and then falsified a report are not the first time that the now-retired sheriff's sergeant has been accused of choking prisoners and lying to investigators.

A Blade review of former Sgt. John Gray's personnel file shows that he was twice the subject of departmental investigations for choking inmates, and once was suspended for dishonesty in an apparent attempt to cover up a colleague's behavior.

Although an investigation in 1995 found that the sergeant did not violate departmental rules when he put his hand around a prisoner's throat, the investigator concluded his report with a warning: "Sgt. Gray's use of pressure points to restrict the flow of blood to someone's brain could lead to damaging results and the practice of using such force should be looked into."

A sleeper hold, a choke hold, or a headlock - whatever it was that former Sergeant Gray did or didn't execute on the neck of Carlton Benton on May 30, 2004, is at the center of the federal indictment that shook the sheriff's office this week.

A grand jury in U.S. District Court in Toledo issued a 12-count indictment Tuesday because of Mr. Benton's death in St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center. Indicted were Sheriff James Telb, former Sergeant Gray, Jay Schmeltz, a former deputy sheriff, and Capt. Robert McBroom, an Internal Affairs investigator with the sheriff's office.

The indictment charged Mr. Gray with assaulting and strangling Mr. Benton, who was also "struck and assaulted" by Mr. Schmeltz. The indictment claims that Mr. Gray then falsified an incident report by omitting "any mention of his use of a 'sleeper hold' on [Mr. Benton]," and "any mention of the fact that he had rendered [Mr. Benton] unconscious with the sleeper hold."

Mr. Benton, 25, stood accused of slaying his paralyzed cousin and the cousin's wife. Police say he had confessed to the murders.

The grand jury also accused Sheriff Telb of making false statements last year to the FBI when he told an agent he had "no knowledge in 2004 that John E. Gray had used a sleeper hold on [Mr. Benton] prior to [Mr. Benton's] death."

The indictment also charges Captain McBroom with making false statements.

Sheriff Telb told a packed press conference Tuesday that he was not guilty and he would fight the federal charges.

During an internal sheriff's office investigation in 2008, shortly before the FBI became involved, a sheriff's deputy recalled he had felt uneasy when he saw Mr. Gray "choke out" Mr. Benton with a sleeper hold in the jail that day in 2004 while Mr. Benton was handcuffed.

Mr. Gray's maneuver resulted in Mr. Benton losing consciousness, the indictment claims.

"He gets around him and chokes him out while we get the cuffs off," Deputy Patrick Mangold told detectives in March, 2008. "I was like, you know you better let him go."

Mr. Gray, now 70, joined the department in 1976 and retired in 2004.

The first of two earlier alleged choking incidents in Mr. Gray's file occurred in 1988 when an inmate complained the sergeant entered his booking cell and assaulted him. The prisoner charged that Mr. Gray choked him with both hands while yelling profanity as four officers watched nearby.

After Mr. Gray's colleagues told an Internal Affairs investigator they hadn't seen anything, the investigator recommended polygraph tests because he "feels that all booking officers are not being truthful and appears [sic] to be covering for their shift commander."

Sheriff Telb ordered the charges dropped against Mr. Gray after the complainant failed to show up for the polygraph test.

Three years earlier, in 1985, the department fielded a complaint from a man who complained that a deputy took him into a rest-

room and assaulted him while he was booked for drunken driving.

Although Mr. Gray, the supervisor on duty, initially stated that no one took the suspect into any private room, he changed his story after learning that the investigator had confirmed that the deputy indeed took the man into the restroom.

However, it remained unsettled what occurred between the inmate and deputy in the room.

Nevertheless, the office suspended Mr. Gray for three days without pay.

"This office feels that Sgt. Gray brought discredit and embarrassment upon our department by causing false reports to be submitted," the investigation concluded, citing Mr. Gray for dishonesty, gross neglect of duty, false or improper reports, and withholding evidence.

In an 1995 incident, a female inmate complained that Mr. Gray choked her to the point that she was unable to breathe.

A corrections officer who witnessed the incident told investigators that the woman was behaving violently and refusing to change into prison garb. Mr. Gray arrived to restrain her and placed his hand around the front of the woman's neck.

The corrections officer observed how "Sgt. Gray has restrained other inmates in the same manner."

The complaint investigator, Captain McBroom - then a sergeant - found no wrongdoing but issued the warning regarding Mr. Gray's neck hold.

Yesterday Mr. Gray's attorney, Spiros Cocoves, declined to comment on any incidents in his client's personnel file, or about the sleeper-hold allegations in the federal indictment.

Jail Administrator Jim O'Neal said this week that the office is updating its jail policies for restraint techniques. He said the possible changes are not a result of the recent criminal charges, but rather part of a general policy update.

"We're clarifying things in the jail, adding more detail," Mr. O'Neal said. "Included is that there will be specific language referring to the sleeper hold."

Staff writer Erica Blake contributed to this report.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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