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Mecklenburg Jailhouse Blues

Inmate lawsuits allege unprovoked, severe beatings at Jail Central

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In the suit McKinnon filed against Pendergraph and nine other sheriff's office employees, McKinnon admits he wrapped himself up in his blanket to keep warm and that he protested when a detention officer, referred to as "John Doe #1," threatened to take his sleeping mat, or mattress, and his blanket, the standard punishment for breaking that rule. When John Doe #1 and a sergeant demanded he turn over the items to them, he refused but said he wouldn't resist their efforts to seize the items.

According to the suit, the two maced and handcuffed him, and after the nurse at the jail refused to treat him, he was taken back to his pod. Soon afterward, five members of the DART team showed up and told him to lie on the floor, place his hands on his head and cross his legs, which he did. He was then beaten and kicked. McKinnon says that after the beating, they dragged him out of his cell, along the floor and over steps and other obstacles to a cell in the Administrative Detention Unit, where they left him in handcuffs. They returned a few minutes later and dragged him to another cell.

McKinnon received medical attention after his beating, including sutures to a gaping laceration to his foot that prevented him from walking. On the way back from the infirmary, the two detention officers who transported him back to his cell deliberately ran his chair into walls, corners and elevator doors.

It's difficult to know who's telling the truth about the rules enforced in the jail. The jail climate control policy that went into effect last April says that the temperature in the jail isn't supposed to get above 85 degrees in the summer or below 68 degrees in the winter. According to temperature data sent to Creative Loafing by sheriff's office spokesperson Julia Rush for two days in February and three days in January of this year, temperatures at the jail ranged from 70 degrees to 74 degrees. Rush says that it's up to the discretion of the pod officer whether inmates can use their blankets between 4am and 9pm. Since September, detention officers have been banned from taking mattresses away from inmates as a form of punishment or without authorization.

If this is the case, one can't help but wonder why so many inmates would go to the trouble of suing the sheriff over the allegedly cold conditions in the jail. If their aim was to strike back at their jailers, why not make up something more substantive? Perhaps those questions will be answered in this case, which is being appealed.

Former inmate Christopher Oxendine, acting as his own attorney, filed a suit against Pendergraph, Sergeant James Elkins and the Mecklenburg County Government. Oxendine says that while he was confined to the jail in November 1999 on stolen vehicle and possession of cocaine charges, Elkins and other officers led him from his housing area into the hall, where he argued with Elkins. Oxendine claims that while he was handcuffed, Elkins grabbed him violently by the pants and collar and threw him into a cell. He claims Elkins removed the handcuffs and said, "I'm going to give you a chance," then hit Oxendine in the mouth and eye with his fists. Oxendine claims he didn't fight or resist while Oxendine beat him. The beating resulted in seven stitches to the left side of Oxendine's mouth, he said. In an answer to Oxendine's suit, Elkins claimed that Oxendine became "increasingly belligerent and verbally abusive while in the hallway and that he repeatedly told Elkins that he knew what time he got off duty and would kill him or have him killed." Elkins claims that Oxendine lunged at him with no provocation and that he defended himself by punching him twice in the face before he could be re-handcuffed.US District Court Chief Judge Graham Mullen dismissed Pendergraph from the suit because Oxendine failed to "allege any personal conduct by Sheriff Pendergraph or that Sergeant Elkins was acting pursuant to a policy or custom of Sheriff Pendergraph." Mullen threw the case against Elkins out after legal papers sent to Oxendine were returned as undeliverable.

David Giovanni Richardson claims a detention officer at the jail by the last name of Darlington slammed him on the floor and rammed his head into a wall after a verbal confrontation between the two on September 29, 2000. "This incident happened because Detention Officer Darlington and I had had words about his trying to disrespect me and other inmates," Richardson wrote in his lawsuit.Less than two weeks later, Richardson claims that Darlington came to his cell when he was asleep.


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