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Beaten For Yelling

Meanwhile, sheriff still stonewalling CL

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Add another bloody face to the list of those who claim out-of-control Mecklenburg County sheriff's deputies beat them while they were handcuffed or otherwise restrained. Jeffrey S. Medlin and his wife Tammy were taking a walk around their neighborhood in September 2001 when Tammy Medlin decided to return home early. After a phone tip a bit later that her husband was hurt, she rushed down the road to find her semi-conscious husband covered with blood and surrounded by sheriff's deputies. As the story goes, after Tammy Medlin headed home, Jeffrey Medlin, who has a history of mental illness, yelled at the unoccupied sheriff's car parked outside the home of Sheriff Deputy William Trull, a neighbor of theirs. After he left the scene, Medlin was stopped farther down the road by Trull, who handcuffed him and later arrested him for disorderly conduct and resisting a public officer. The charges against Medlin were later dropped.

In their lawsuit against Trull and Mecklenburg County, Tammy and Jeffrey Medlin say that Trull, who was off duty at the time, assaulted Medlin, and then continued beating Medlin once he was handcuffed and on the ground.

Pictures taken after the incident clearly show a large bruise with an imprint of a tennis shoe on Medlin's forehead, an injury Medlin likely received in a prone position. Another picture made available to Creative Loafing shows the back of his head, which was also beaten bloody with a weapon of some kind.

Medical records show Medlin suffered a concussion, broken bones in his mouth, torn ligaments in his neck, a two-inch cut in the back of his head, lower and upper back injuries, knots and bruises on his head, and broken and knocked-out teeth. Ms. Medlin also claims that her husband has suffered brain damage and memory loss and continues to see a neurologist.

The couple decided to sue to recover their medical bills, which total tens of thousands of dollars, and the income they've lost while her husband was out of work recovering from his injuries.

"This has caused us financial devastation," Tammy Medlin said. "They're supposed to protect us from things like this, not cause them."

Both Medlin and her attorney, Eric Levine, say they're frustrated by the lack of response from the sheriff's office's internal affairs division to their complaints about the incident and the fact that Trull is still employed by the sheriff's office.

"I don't know what internal affairs does, but they didn't do a damn thing about this," said Levine. "He's still with the department. It's an injustice."

Tammy Medlin said she has received a "Dear John letter" from the sheriff's office that didn't address their complaints.

"They've been very reluctant to really do anything," she said.

Medlin's case is the ninth known beating and abuse lawsuit filed against Mecklenburg County Sheriff's officers over the last few years. In several of the other cases, the families of the alleged victims also claim to have received the same sort of brush-off from the sheriff's office when they complained about beatings that allegedly took place at the jail while inmates were restrained.

Of the 27 sheriff's officers who've been named in beatings lawsuits, 17 are still employed there and five no longer work there. According to a document provided by sheriff's spokesperson Julia Rush, the sheriff's office isn't sure whether the remaining five officers are still employed by the sheriff or not.

In his response to the Medlin lawsuit, Trull admits Medlin was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting a public officer, but Trull denies all the other allegations against him.

As other inmates who've tried to sue the sheriff's office for the same reason have learned, regardless of the facts in your case, keeping it alive long enough to get it before a jury can be a major legal feat thanks to legal hurdles called sovereign and public official immunity.

It goes back to a concept in English common law called sovereign immunity that essentially says government officials can't be sued for their actions, no matter how much damage they cause. Because most states, including North Carolina, have statutes that say that the common law is enforced unless changed or abrogated, and because the NC legislature has never passed a law abolishing sovereign immunity, it still applies here. Inmates are thus essentially barred from recovering any damages unless their attorney is savvy enough to get around the law by successfully making civil rights claims, which isn't easy. Like the other county sheriff's officers who've been sued before him for allegedly beating inmates, Trull is arguing through his attorney that Medlin is barred from recovering any damages because Trull is protected by sovereign and public official immunity.

In other news, the sheriff's office continues to stonewall CL's public records requests for information pertaining to the beatings cases. CL has requested that Sheriff Jim Pendergraph turn over the videotapes detention officers are required, by sheriff's office policy, to make when they "extract" uncooperative inmates from their cells. CL also requested copies of administrative complaints against sheriff's employees by inmates and any information related to their investigation and disposal. Because state statutes prohibit the disclosure of personnel employee records by the sheriff's office, CL requested that the sheriff turn over the complaints with the names of any detention officers mentioned in them redacted.

In an April 24 letter to CL, Rush denied our requests, stating that the videotapes and the complaints -- even if officers names were removed -- are not public records. Rush neglected to cite the state statutes upon which the public records denial was made, despite a request by CL that the sheriff's office do so.

In the case of inmate Stacy Cunningham, whose lawsuit against sheriff's employees for allegedly beating him is scheduled to be heard by a jury next week, a judge has banned the public disclosure of a videotape that Cunningham and his attorney claim shows him being beaten by a detention officer at the jail.

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