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Published: Wednesday, 4/16/2014 - Updated: 6 months ago

Arbitrator settles 2 use-of-force cases involving sheriff’s office

BY TAYLOR DUNGJEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Two unrelated use-of-force complaints against Lucas County Sheriff’s Office employees were resolved this month with the dismissal of a case against a sergeant and the firing of a corrections officer.

A three-person disciplinary board ruled April 7 that an internal use-of-force charge against Sgt. Samuel Mysinger was unsubstantiated. In a unanimous opinion, the board agreed the sergeant was defending himself, according to documents in an Internal Affairs Bureau file.

On April 8, an arbitrator ruled to uphold the termination of Jacob Kurth, a corrections officer who was fired March 12, 2013, for punching and kicking an inmate on Dec. 31, 2012.

RELATED: Click here to read Arbitrator's ruling

In the decision, the arbitrator, Brenda Meyer, wrote: “A corrections facility cannot continue to employ an individual who has demonstrated an inability to maintain his professional demeanor when simply confronted with noncompliance and profanity.”

At the onset of his term, Sheriff John Tharp spoke with union officials, put out new orders, and went to briefings to let employees know he wouldn’t hesitate to hand down punishments for policy violations.

“The purpose was to send a message to the officers in the department that we’re public servants. We cash a paycheck with tax dollars and the people we represent with this badge expect us to conduct ourselves professionally and courteously,” said Capt. Donald Atkinson who oversees the Internal Affairs Bureau.

“It’s been a night-and-day change,” the captain said. “He said to people, ‘If you can’t adhere to these standards of conduct, you need to find another place to work.’ ”

Attempts to reach Sergeant Mysinger and Mr. Kurth were unsuccessful.

The case against Sergeant Mysinger, a 10-year veteran of the department, stemmed from a Feb. 24 incident in the booking area of the Lucas County jail in which the sergeant punched Dustin Lake, an inmate.

Mr. Lake, who was arrested Feb. 23 by Toledo police and charged with disorderly conduct while intoxicated, was in a holding cell.

According to various reports from corrections officers and Sergeant Mysinger, Mr. Lake started yelling and shouting at 1:40 a.m.

Sergeant Mysinger unlocked the cell door and spoke with Mr. Lake for several minutes. At times, on surveillance video, Mr. Lake can be seen lying on the floor and then getting up.

At one point, the inmate got up and called the sergeant a derogatory name, according to an internal affairs report. The inmate appeared, on video, to move toward the sergeant; Sergeant Mysinger then punched the inmate in the face one time.

Other nearby corrections officers quickly came to the sergeant’s aid, and Mr. Lake was handcuffed.

The internal affairs report states that Sergeant Mysinger said he believed Mr. Lake was going to attack him, although he did not fear his life was in danger.

Punching the inmate in the face without fearing for his life is a violation of the department’s use-of-force policy, internal affairs investigators contended.

The disciplinary panel — Sheriff’s Major Ron Keel, Magistrate David Smith, and Aaron Nolan, Lucas County sheriff’s director of inmate services — disagreed. Major Keel wrote that the “sergeant reacted to a situation as the inmate came at him.”

Magistrate Smith ruled that Sergeant Mysinger “appeared to stop a rush by the inmate with the least amount of force necessary.”

Mr. Nolan found that the sergeant was “startled by the aggressive action of the inmate” and that the sergeant “reasonably articulated why he deviated from policy.”

The case against Mr. Kurth, who was hired Feb. 3, 2006, was drawn out for more than a year.

Mr. Kurth was charged internally with any just or reasonable cause, truthfulness, use of force, and false or improper reports. He was also charged in Toledo Municipal Court with assault.

The court case was pleaded down in April, 2013, to disorderly conduct. Mr. Kurth pleaded no contest, was found guilty, and ordered to pay a $50 fine and court costs.

The arbitrator found that all of the charges against Mr. Kurth were warranted and upheld the termination.

“We’re disappointed, but that’s the process and we stand by the process,” said Pat Mangold, president of UAW Local 3056, which represents the noncommand employees of the sheriff’s office.

Based on internal affairs reports and the arbitrator’s ruling, here are the events that led to the termination of Mr. Kurth:

Mr. Kurth was working Dec. 31, 2012, on the fourth floor of the Lucas County jail, a floor known for behavioral issues that oftentimes houses gang members.

There had already been a fight in one of the fourth-floor modules when the same inmates began jumping, kicking, pounding on tables, and yelling.

Unsuccessful attempts, including several visits to the module by Mr. Kurth and Corrections Officer Jonathon DeVol, were made to quiet the inmates. On a fourth visit, Mr. Kurth ordered the inmates to lock down.

Mr. Kurth told officials one inmate, Francisco Cortez, swore and asked why the inmates had to lock down. The arbitrator notes that witness statements about the fight between Mr. Kurth and Cortez differ.

The arbitrator wrote that Mr. Kurth “rushed toward” Cortez, pushed him, punched him multiple times, and kneed him. The arbitrator also wrote that it appears that Mr. Kurth shoved Cortez, who was handcuffed, to the ground with no way to break his fall.

“Inmate Cortez ended up hitting the cement floor face first with his hands cuffed behind his back,” the arbitrator wrote.

Mr. Kurth wrote that he pushed the inmate to put distance between them; the arbitrator wrote, “Mr. Kurth was not creating distance, but attacking Inmate Cortez.”

“That’s disturbing to me,” Captain Atkinson said. “The guy is handcuffed. Why’d you push him?”

From the scuffle, both Mr. Kurth and Cortez required medical treatment — Mr. Kurth at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center for an eye injury and Cortez at the jail’s medical unit for various injuries.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people working here are coming in here and doing just that,” Captain Atkinson said. “We owe it to them to say, ‘You come in every day and do a stellar job and work your butt off for the taxpayers and provide a valuable service.’ ”

Contact Taylor Dungjen at tdungjen@theblade.com, or 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @taylordungjen.


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