Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

More claims of abuse hit Hillsborough jail

LARA CERRI   |   Times
In a news conference Friday at his attorney’s office, Paul King says he was abused by Hills-borough detention deputies after his arrest.

LARA CERRI | Times In a news conference Friday at his attorney’s office, Paul King says he was abused by Hills-borough detention deputies after his arrest.

TAMPA — Already the captives had complained of arm-breaking, of wheelchair-dumping, of blows to the head and brain damage. Now this.

In the growing alarm over guard-on-inmate violence at the main Hillsborough jail, Friday brought an unsettling new image: a man in a cell, bound to a chair, head covered in a mask.

The man was a teacher. He was the sixth inmate in February to publicly claim abuse at the hands of Hillsborough jail deputies. And a seventh would surface by early afternoon. There was talk of a class-action lawsuit.

The teacher was Paul King, 40-year-old Canadian living in Temple Terrace. He had resigned from the Hillsborough public-school system after a DUI arrest.

On July 7, 2007, he was arrested for the fourth time in a two-month period. The charge was disorderly intoxication.

King was booked at the Orient Road Jail, where cameras record much of what happens. Sheriff David Gee installed the system shortly after he took office in 2005 because inmates complained of stolen money.

Now the cameras are providing evidence for inmates whose claims of abuse might otherwise be ignored by the media.

In footage obtained by his attorney, John Trevena, and made public Friday, as King stood against the wall of a holding cell, a deputy seemed to hurl him to the floor. Trevena said the action was unprovoked.

"The one element of it that's going to be completely indefensible," he said, "is when he's taken from the glass and thrown."

• • •

But an incident report from the Sheriff's Office says that when a deputy tried to escort him to the intake counter for a pat-down search, King grew belligerent. Deputies moved him to a holding cell, where they tried again to search him. The report says he refused to face the glass.

Deputy Brett Strohsack put King's right arm behind him. The report says that when another deputy tried to remove King's shoes, King pushed off the glass and tried to turn around. Strohsack took King to the floor. Deputies put him in handcuffs and leg irons and fastened him into a restraint chair.

The report does not mention this, but the video appears to show a deputy holding King by the neck for more than a minute.

The report says King spat on the glass. The video is unclear on this. The report says he spat blood at a deputy. King denies spitting at anyone. In any case, a deputy covered King's head in a whitish mask known as a spit mask or a spit sock. Sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said it is breathable. King said it gave him breathing trouble.

The video shows King, masked, in the restraint chair. The camera's view is partly blocked by a door frame. Papers are taped to the glass. When a deputy adjusts their position, they further block the camera's view of King.

What happened next is not listed in the incident report, which mentions nothing more until 3 a.m. This leaves a gap of about four hours in the written record. King claims that during this time, deputies beat and ridiculed him.

"They made me say vile things about myself just to humiliate myself, and the other deputies laughed," he said.

The report says King was removed from the restraint chair at 3 a.m., nearly four hours after he had been placed there. A jail detective later reviewed the video, interviewed King and the deputies involved, and concluded force was justified to "gain control of a violent subject."

• • •

King was not the only inmate to make a public abuse claim Friday. At the same news conference, attorney Bethany Jackson said Hillsborough deputies improperly transported a disabled inmate named Nick Joseph Molfetto last August.

Molfetto, whose arrest record runs 22 pages, was going from prison in Lake Butler to a Hillsborough jail to await a court hearing. He had a spinal injury that made a wheelchair necessary. But, Jackson said, Hillsborough deputies made him lie on the floor of a transport van for the entire three-hour trip, despite his repeated protests. She said a doctor concluded that the ride inflamed the staples in his back so badly that his court date had to be postponed.

Jackson said the agency has a van that could have transported him correctly, in his wheelchair, but deputies declined to use it.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said the agency will look into Molfetto's claims.

• • •

King was hired as a special education teacher at Cypress Creek Elementary in south Hillsborough in September 2003. He got good evaluations at first. But in fall 2006, colleagues said he seemed severely depressed.

King left Cypress Creek, transferring to an office job in the district administration. His behavior alarmed those around him.

"He was in a very agitated, unstable condition," co-worker Angela Jones wrote in a statement for district investigators. "He appeared to be a time-bomb waiting to go off."

Arrested five times between May and July, he was in jail for most of the fall. On Nov. 14, he appealed for help.

"I have written the Jail Detective numerous times with no result," he wrote in an inmate-request form. "I was beaten by deputies in (Orient Road Jail) booking. Incident is on video. I wish to press formal criminal charges."

He got a response from Sgt. Rene Fortner the same day.

"The incident has been reviewed," Fortner wrote, "and formal criminal charges have been filed against you."

Times staff writers Letitia Stein and Alexandra Zayas and researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Thomas Lake can be reached at or (813) 226-3416.

More claims of abuse hit Hillsborough jail 02/29/08 [Last modified: Friday, February 29, 2008 11:17pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. What you need to know for Thursday, May 25


    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    To catch a ring of poachers who targeted Florida's million-dollar alligator farming industry, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission set up an undercover operation. They created their own alligator farm, complete with plenty of real, live alligators, watched over by real, live undercover wildlife officers. It also had hidden video cameras to record everything that happened. That was two years ago, and on Wednesday wildlife officers announced that they arrested nine people on  44 felony charges alleging they broke wildlife laws governing alligator harvesting, transporting eggs and hatchlings across state lines, dealing in stolen property, falsifying records, racketeering and conspiracy. The wildlife commission released these photos of alligators, eggs and hatchlings taken during the undercover operation. [Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission]
  2. Trigaux: Amid a record turnout, regional technology group spotlights successes, desire to do more


    ST. PETERSBURG — They came. They saw. They celebrated Tampa Bay's tech momentum.

    A record turnout event by the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, held May 24 at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, featured a panel of area tech executives talking about the challenges encountered during their respective mergers and acquisitions. Show, from left to right, are: Gerard Purcell, senior vice president of global IT integration at Tech Data Corp.; John Kuemmel, chief information officer at Triad Retail Media, and Chris Cate, chief operating officer at Valpak. [Robert Trigaux, Times]
  3. Take 2: Some fear Tampa Bay Next transportation plan is TBX redux


    TAMPA — For many, Wednesday's regional transportation meeting was a dose of deja vu.

    The Florida Department of Transportation on Monday announced that it was renaming its controversial Tampa Bay Express plan, also known as TBX. The plan will now be known as Tampa Bay Next, or TBN. But the plan remains the same: spend $60 billion to add 90 miles of toll roads to bay area interstates that are currently free of tolls. [Florida Department of Transportation]
  4. Hailed as 'pioneers,' students from St. Petersburg High's first IB class return 30 years later


    ST. PETERSBURG — The students came from all over Pinellas County, some enduring hot bus rides to a school far from home. At first, they barely knew what to call themselves. All they knew was that they were in for a challenge.

    Class of 1987 alumni Devin Brown, from left, and D.J. Wagner, world history teacher Samuel Davis and 1987 graduate Milford Chavous chat at their table.
  5. Flower boxes on Fort Harrison in Clearwater to go, traffic pattern to stay


    I travel Fort Harrison Avenue in Clearwater often and I've noticed that the travel lanes have been rerouted to allow for what looks like flower boxes that have been painted by children. There are also a few spaces that push the travel lane to the center that have no boxes. Is this a permanent travel lane now? It …