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Former inmate files lawsuit alleging corrections officers threatened to hang him and 'make it look like a suicide'

Posted at 11:10 AM, Sep 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-17 08:26:42-04

CLEVELAND — A Cuyahoga County inmate has filed a lawsuit against Cuyahoga County and several corrections officers after he said officers allegedly beat him, threatened to hang him and “make it look like a suicide,” and placed him into the same pod with a man who killed his cousin, according to a complaint filed by The Chandra Law Firm in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.

An inmate, identified in the lawsuit as Corrionne Lawrence, alleges the beatings started after he was booked into the jail on Sept. 16, 2018 for a probation violation. Upon being booked, he initially answered the officers’ questions in Spanish, which irritated the booking officers, the lawsuit alleges. For four hours, he was allegedly placed in a restraint chair as a “punishment for speaking Spanish.”

After he was booked, he warned jail staff that he should be kept separate from another inmate who he says killed his cousin in 2016. Initially, he was assigned a separate pod, but on Oct. 17, Lawrence was reassigned to the same pod where the man who killed his cousin was housed.

The lawsuit states this was the first time the two men interacted since his cousin’s murder.

Once in the same pod, Lawrence said threats against him began immediately. On the following morning after the pod reassignment, one jailer unlocked all the cells around the pod’s day room.

Feeling an impending threat against him, Lawrence threw a milk container with urine inside at the man, who then attacked him inside his cell, the lawsuit states. It’s also alleged the jail staff did nothing to stop the verbal or physical attacks.

As a result of throwing the urine, members of the Special Response Team (SRT) handcuffed Lawrence and escorted him to an elevator “generally known to have no functioning security camera,” the lawsuit states.

An officer then told Lawrence “Let’s play a game,” which allegedly led to Lawrence being punched and kicked inside the elevator. After the alleged beating, he was taken to his cell with a bloodied head without medical attention.

On a separate occasion, Lawrence repeatedly asked to take a shower, which provoked a response from a corrections officer to hold a pepper spray canister in front of his face, threatening to mace him if he didn’t stop asking for a shower, the lawsuit states. The same officer then threatened to hang Lawrence and “make it look like a suicide.”

"In a space where the individuals who are incarcerated know about the bodies that have been piling up at the county's door for the past year, just to casually make a threat like that, it truly is a shocking level of depravity," said attorney Ashlie Case Sletvold who is representing Lawrence.

Shortly after being threatened with death after asking for a shower, Lawrence was beaten by three officers inside his cell, the lawsuit alleges.

U.S. Marshals investigation

In late October 2018 when investigators with the U.S. Marshals Service arrived unannounced to the jail to assess conditions, Lawrence reported the abuse during an interview with marshals.

After investigators left, he was considered a “snitch” among the jail staff and was threatened with violence and served spoiled milk, rotten fruit and moldy bread during the remainder of his time in the jail, the lawsuit states.

When investigators came to the jail again, Lawrence managed to slip a note to investigators, detailing the situation he faced. In an email to former Cuyahoga County Sheriff Clifford Pinkney titled “Whistleblowing Protection,” Lawrence was on the list as one of the inmates who was ordered to be transferred out of the jail for his protection.

"These were not rogue officers," said Sletvold. "These are folks doing what they do on a daily basis and now a light is being shined on it and it's impossible to say these are isolated incidents because they're not."

The lawsuit lists ten other former inmates who have come forward with allegations of mistreatment by jail staff.

A county spokeswoman said she could not comment on the pending litigation.

Read the full lawsuit here.

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