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June 28, 2022

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Clark County corrections deputy refused interview in use-of-force investigation

Criminal probe into incident details use of tether device

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor, and
, Columbian staff writer
Published:

A corrections deputy at the center of an Aug. 13 use-of-force case against an inmate at the Clark County Jail declined to be interviewed in a criminal investigation of the incident.

Corrections Deputy Robert Hanks has retained Vancouver defense attorney Jon McMullen, according to an investigator’s report. A call to McMullen’s office for comment Wednesday was not returned.

The information was contained in a 12-page report released Wednesday by the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in response to a public records request by The Columbian. The records also include interviews with the inmate, who is not identified, and four corrections deputies, listed as witnesses.

The criminal investigation, which is under review, was conducted as a courtesy by the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office at Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins’ request. The case was given to Pierce County on Sept. 29 for investigation of a possible simple assault of an inmate by Hanks. The local sheriff’s office is also conducting an internal investigation.

Atkins previously placed Hanks on administrative leave and notified the involved deputies of the criminal and internal investigations. A sheriff’s sergeant was disciplined for failing to review video footage of the incident, which is procedure.

Hanks has not returned to work at the jail, according to sheriff’s office spokesman Sgt. Brent Waddell.

Videos released earlier this month by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office showed corrections deputies pinning, tackling and dragging the handcuffed man by a tether while trying to search and clean his cell.

The inmate was treated for lacerations to his wrists and numbness in his fingers and hands, the report states.

According to the involved corrections deputies, the tether is a relatively new tactic at the jail that came with little training. In their interviews with investigators, none of the involved corrections deputies recalled being formally trained on its use.

Tether tactic

Deputy Brock Hood said corrections deputies started using the tether tactic in the last year or two. Some units have received training on its use, he said, but there was never formal training, and corrections deputies are learning to use it on the job, according to his interview with investigators.

A student deputy, Alex Cruse, told investigators he had not been trained on using the tether and had never used it before this incident. His training officer, Deputy Janelle Goetz, told investigators she’s had informal training and that “the tether has been used multiple other times.”

Deputy Stephen Welborn said his only training with the tether has been hands-on practice and a demonstration on how to use it, according to his interview with investigators.

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office said previously that the internal investigation will determine whether the deputies’ techniques, including use of the tether, were proper.

In an Oct. 9 interview with investigators, the inmate, who, from the video, appears to be a person of color, said that corrections deputies “drug me across the (expletive) floor like, like a (expletive) slave like, you know what I’m saying, like this was ‘Mississippi Burning’ or something.”

The June 1964 abduction and murder of three civil rights volunteers in Philadelphia, Miss., that became known as Mississippi Burning, roused national outrage over racist violence in the Deep South and support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The report does not offer any analysis suggesting investigators believe the incident was racially motivated; the inmate later said in his interview he didn’t believe the use of force was about skin color or his charges.

He expressed frustration about being handcuffed when deputies entered his cell to retrieve food trays and trash; he said some are more forceful than others. He said Hanks and other corrections deputies don’t like him and that’s why he was treated that way, according to his interview.

‘Non-compliant’

According to Pierce County’s report, Clark County Undersheriff John Chapman said the local sheriff’s office determined the Aug. 13 incident should be investigated to determine if the use of force was appropriate. The agency then turned over videos of the incident, which don’t include audio.

The investigator reviewed the videos Sept. 30 and described what he saw in his report, noting that the inmate was “non-compliant with many correctional deputies” as they tried to handcuff him through the cell door’s port and enter his cell.

The report notes the inmate has had prior conflicts with deputies and is in a restricted pod for people with behavior issues. Goetz told investigators in her interview that three deputies were required for interactions with this inmate because he’s considered a safety risk.

Two months prior to this incident, Hood punched the inmate in the face, Hood told investigators, after he charged at the deputy.

In his interview with investigators, the inmate said the corrections deputies came to get his trash, and he told them he could throw it out during his walk time later. He was talking with Cruse, he said, when Hanks “bum rushed” him.

The inmate said Hanks pushed him into his bunk, causing him to hit his head, and then into the corner of his cell; Hanks then slammed him into the wall and back into the bunk. The inmate said his throat was on the edge of the bunk, cutting off his breathing. He stood on his toes and tried to step onto the bunk’s ladder, he said, to remove the pressure on his neck. Hanks then threw him to the ground, he said, according to the interview.

He said the deputies then ran full speed out of his cell, “like it’s the (expletive) Kentucky Derby.” He didn’t realize deputies had tethered him, he told investigators, until they started dragging him toward the handcuff port.

Incident detailed

Hood told investigators that when the deputies originally tried to handcuff the inmate through the port, the man kept pulling one hand away. Cruse repeatedly told the inmate to put both hands out of the port, Hood said, so he could be handcuffed, according to his interview.

Cruse told investigators he ordered the inmate to back up multiple times as he tried to enter his cell, but he kept taking baby steps. Goetz said that when Cruse continued to tell him to step back, the inmate said, “Come in here and make me.” That’s when Hanks rushed around Cruse, she told investigators, and pushed the man back.

Hood said once they had the inmate on the floor, he stopped struggling. Hood called for Goetz to grab a tether, he told investigators. Welborn followed Goetz to the cell from the booking area after he saw her grab the tether, according to his interview with investigators. He said he didn’t know what led up to the need for the tether.

Cruse held down the inmate’s feet while Hood attached the tether to the man’s wrists, according to the interviews. Hanks, Welborn and Goetz pulled the tether. When Hood heard the inmate shouting about his wrists, he said he told the deputies to give the inmate some slack so he could better position his hands through the port. Cruse said he removed the man’s handcuffs.

Welborn said the deputies did not give the inmate instructions to stand up or walk toward the cell door before pulling the tether because “we’ve exhausted those (commands).” Hood said he couldn’t recall if they gave the inmate orders or immediately started pulling the tether, according to their interviews.

Goetz declined to answer a question, at the advice of her guild attorney, about whether she saw anything that was inappropriate while the tether was being pulled or handcuffs removed.

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