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Jail abuse victim spares deputy from a trial

TAMPA — A former Hillsborough detention deputy will likely avoid jail time for dumping a quadriplegic inmate from his wheelchair.

She has her victim to thank.

Attorneys said Brian Sterner, the disabled man tossed onto the floor at the Orient Road Jail, agreed that a pretrial intervention program for first-time offenders was a just resolution in the felony case against Charlette Marshall-Jones.

At Sterner's request, prosecutors added two special conditions to the 18-month diversion program Marshall-Jones entered Monday.

Marshall-Jones, 45, must perform 100 community service hours working with disabled individuals and surrender her detention deputy certification before the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office will drop her abuse of a disabled adult charge.

The third-degree felony carried up to five years in prison.

Sterner's attorney said his client was looking for awareness, not vengeance — but didn't rule out civil litigation.

"I think it's about having a sense of reasonableness," said attorney Michael Maddux. "I think there's room for forgiveness in every tragedy, and he's exercising it."

According to Maddux, Marshall-Jones could still be named as a defendant in any civil action his client pursues.

Caught on jailhouse videotape and blasted across the Web, the Jan. 29 incident became the wheelchair dump seen around the nation. A firestorm followed.

Sheriff David Gee called Marshall-Jones' actions "inexcusable" and "indefensible," then commissioned an independent citizen review of his jails. A flurry of inmates popped up with attorneys and further accusations of abuse by detention deputies.

Marshall-Jones, a 22-year Sheriff's Office employee with a mostly positive work history, resigned two days after getting arrested and booked into the very facility where her behavior came under scrutiny.

"Please be aware that it never was, nor never could be my intention to bring malicious harm or shame to anyone," she wrote in her Feb. 18 resignation letter.

The former detention deputy did not appear in court or speak with reporters Monday.

Her attorney, Norman Cannella Sr., previously had said his client's side of the story would come out at trial. On Monday, he said conversations with Sterner's attorney during the past month led to an agreement for the pretrial intervention program instead.

"She's happy that this matter is concluded," he said. "She wants to get on with her life, and this is a way to do so."

Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi said Marshall-Jones committed "a very serious offense" but qualified for the diversion program because of her lack of a prior arrest history. She received three times the amount of community service hours ordered for most first-time offenders, Bondi said.

The Sheriff's Office had no comment on the sentence, spokeswoman Debbie Carter said.

The case's legacy lives on.

The Independent Review Commission on Jails next meets July 11 and plans to issue a final report in September. In its preliminary report last month, the commission suggested more training in stress management and dealing with people with mental health and substance abuse problems for deputies who work in jail booking areas.

Though the group will eventually hear a full review of the internal affairs investigation into Marshall-Jones' actions, "we wanted to deal with the bigger picture, not just a single case," said chairman James Sewell.

Sterner, who has limited use of his arms after a wrestling injury left him paralyzed from the chest down, has been found competent to stand trial on the criminal charge that initially landed him in jail: fleeing and attempting to elude a police officer.

He has notified the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office of his intent to file suit in federal court unless a settlement is reached.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Jail abuse victim spares deputy from a trial 06/30/08 [Last modified: Monday, July 7, 2008 5:53pm]
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