Friday, December 15, 2017
Public safety

Pinellas deputy fired over abuse of prisoner at county jail

LARGO — A Pinellas County sheriff's deputy has been fired for grabbing a handcuffed jail inmate by the throat and hurling him to the ground, an incident Sheriff Bob Gualtieri calls one of the more flagrant violations of use-of-force guidelines he has seen in his law enforcement career.

Desmond Quinn, 40, was fired by Gualtieri in October after an internal investigation of his attack on the inmate. Documentation of that inquiry, as well as surveillance video footage of the incident, was released to the Tampa Bay Times this week by the Sheriff's Office.

The video shows 22-year-old Citrus County resident David Fowler being booked into the Pinellas County Jail on May 26 on a DUI arrest. After Fowler complains to Quinn about pain from his handcuffs, the deputy abruptly wraps both his hands around the young man's throat, slams him forward onto a counter, then throws him backward.

Fowler crashes to the floor and begins sobbing as several deputies watch.

"The way he slammed the guy to the ground was horrific and uncalled for," Gualtieri said. "We're lucky the guy didn't crack his head open."

Fowler, a traveling welder who has been arrested multiple times for driving while intoxicated and drug possession, said he was gratified to hear of Quinn's firing. He said he didn't suffer lasting injuries. He was released without bail on the DUI charge, which he said is pending.

"It made me feel good to know that there are people out there making sure officers are following the rules," Fowler said.

Quinn could not be reached for comment. In an interview with investigators, he said Fowler had been "mouthy" and had blown into his face, leading the deputy to defend himself from "spit particles" in the intoxicated man's breath.

Quinn admitted to investigators he had verbally threatened Fowler before grabbing his neck, telling him, "I'm going to knock you down."

He acknowledged he had overreacted.

"I'm supposed to be a professional at all times. I wasn't professional in that 13-minute slot. Did I do wrong, yes. I did wrong," Quinn said, according to a transcript of the interview.

Quinn worked at the Sheriff's Office for five years and served 13 years with the Florida Department of Corrections.

It's not the first time he has been in trouble for roughing up people under arrest. In 2010, Quinn tipped over a wheelchair occupied by a belligerent suspect who was being booked into the jail, leading to a suspension and retraining in the appropriate use of force.

Gualtieri said the earlier incident, combined with additional allegations in 2012 that Quinn had not performed his jail rounds in a timely manner, contributed to the decision to fire him. He said his agency decided not to pursue criminal charges against Quinn because they could not prove criminal intent.

"People make mistakes," Gualtieri said. "None of us are perfect. But when you make those mistakes, you've got to learn."

Brutality toward prisoners is a sensitive topic among Tampa Bay's law enforcement officers — especially when captured on video.

In 2008, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office endured a storm of criticism when surveillance footage showed a jail deputy dumping quadriplegic Brian Sterner from a wheelchair. The video went viral. Sterner's attorney said at the time that Hillsborough had become "an international symbol for inmate abuse."

Two Hillsborough deputies resigned and one was fired over the incident, and a panel was convened to examine complaints of systemic abuse in the county jail system.

Gualtieri said Quinn's actions aren't symptomatic of bigger problems with mistreatment of Pinellas jail inmates. He said the deputy's outburst was an aberration from the training jail employees receive.

In testimony to internal affairs investigators, sheriff's Deputy Randolph Roberts, who teaches defensive tactics in the department's training division, said neither grabbing a suspect by the neck nor throwing one to the ground resemble any techniques deputies learn.

"It's not a training issue, because he was just totally outside the boundaries," Gualtieri said.

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.

Comments
Deputies: Plant City men fled in stolen car, later found in swamp

Deputies: Plant City men fled in stolen car, later found in swamp

DOVER — Two Plant City men, with several outstanding warrants, face additional charges after Hillsborough County deputies said they were driving a stolen car when they fled an attempted traffic stop on Thursday afternoon.The men ran away from deputie...
Updated: 7 minutes ago

Hudson pedestrian killed while crossing U.S. 19

HUDSON — A Hudson man was killed Thursday night while crossing U.S. 19.According to the Florida Highway Patrol, 59-year-old Gerald Berube was crossing the northbound lanes of U.S. 19 north of Stahl Drive around 6:40 p.m. when he walked into the path ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Missing Child Alert issued for Port St. Lucie girl, 17

Missing Child Alert issued for Port St. Lucie girl, 17

A Florida Missing Child Alert has been issued for a 17-year-old Port St. Lucie girl who was last seen on Thursday.Heaven Flores was last seen near the 1400 block of SW Cashmere Boulevard in Port St. Lucie, according to the Florida Department of Law E...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Bicyclist killed in Seminole Heights crash; portion of E Hillsborough Avenue closed

TAMPA — A bicyclist was killed early Friday morning in a crash in Seminole Heights.Tampa Police say the bicyclist was struck by a car just after 12:15 a.m.Eastbound E Hillsborough Avenue is closed from N Florida Avenue to N Central Avenue while polic...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Tampa police seek ‘person of interest’ in Dec. 3 homicide

Tampa police seek ‘person of interest’ in Dec. 3 homicide

TAMPA — Police are seeking a "person of interest" who they believe has information about a Dec. 3 drive-by shooting that killed a 22-year-old man.Police are searching for Anan Motilal, 25. He stands about 5-foot-10 and weighs 180 pounds. He may have ...
Updated: 10 hours ago

Pinellas Park officer stuns middle school student with Taser

PINELLAS PARK — A school resource officer stunned a middle school student with a Taser while trying to break up a fight between her and another female student on Thursday, police said.Neither the Pinellas Park officer nor the students involved in the...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Bob’s Carpet and Flooring heir was source of family strife before arrest

Bob’s Carpet and Flooring heir was source of family strife before arrest

An heir to a local flooring company charged with failing to report the death of a young woman last year has a troubled criminal history and was a source of strife in his family business, according to court records.Robert Butler III, 52, was arrested ...
Published: 12/14/17
Horrified friends watch screaming woman driven to her death in Plant City

Horrified friends watch screaming woman driven to her death in Plant City

PLANT CITY — Jonathon Adams heard a scream, "like a dog getting run over by a car," then saw a minivan come tearing around the corner with a woman he knew dangling out of the passenger side.It was the start of a deadly sequence of events Dec. 8 that ...
Published: 12/14/17
Dade City man turns himself in on warrants for Polk armed robbery

Dade City man turns himself in on warrants for Polk armed robbery

DADE CITY — A 25-year-old man wanted in connection with the attempted robbery of a taxi driver in Lakeland turned himself in late Wednesday night after being prompted by his mother, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.Edner Dely of Dade Ci...
Published: 12/14/17

Deputies: Fleeing suspect shoots, injures dog as he runs through yards

DOVER — While fleeing from deputies, a man shot a dog inside a fenced yard Thursday, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies said they were attempting to pull over a vehicle that might have been stolen near Milagro Court and Bl...
Published: 12/14/17