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Franklin County Settles More Lawsuits for Violating Prisoners’ Rights

Franklin County commissioners agreed to pay $40,000 to settle lawsuits filed by former inmates who accused deputy sheriffs of excessive force by shocking them with Tasers.

The settlements are related to a class-action lawsuit filed in 2010 by the Ohio Legal Rights Service.

Six more cases could be settled. Several former and current jail inmates are part of the lawsuit that involves many deputies, and more could seek damages.

The county settled the lawsuit in February, although it admitted no wrongdoing. The U.S. Department of Justice joined the lawsuit on behalf of the prisoners.

In ending the class-action suit, the sheriff’s office agreed that deputies will not use Tasers unless someone resists “by use of physical force” or displays “active aggression.”

Attorneys reviewed jail records, including tapes of prisoners being stripped in front of deputies of the opposite sex and Tasered. The settlements stem from two incidents:

• In September 2009, Martini Smith, twenty, was shocked after having trouble removing her tongue ring. The county agreed to pay her $27,500 in the settlement. Ms. Smith refused to take off her shirt until Cpl. Matthew Stice stepped into Smith’s cell and “displayed his Taser.” She then was ordered to remove her tongue ring. She said her hands were slippery and asked for a tissue. Cpl. Stice refused and deployed his Taser probes into Ms. Smith’s bare chest.

• In April 2010, Michael Worley was stunned with a Taser after he refused to remove his underwear. The settlement will pay Worley $12,500. Mr. Worley had been arrested for an outstanding misdemeanor warrant for petty theft. Video shows Sgt. Christopher Leonard drawing his Taser as he enters Mr. Worley’s cell with four deputies. They ordered Mr. Worley to stand up, turn his back to deputies, and take off his clothes. After he refused to remove his underwear, Sgt. Leonard stunned Worley with his Taser. The sheriff’s office maintains that Mr. Worley did not use excessive force.

The county has settled thirty-two lawsuits totaling $1.2 million involving the sheriff’s office since 2009. As of September, when the tally was at twenty-seven, Franklin County had settled more suits involving its sheriff’s office than Ohio’s other five largest counties.

Via The Columbus Dispatch.

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