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Hillsborough sheriff facing two legal claims for jail treatment

TAMPA — Two people who claim they were injured by Hills­borough County sheriff's deputies while being booked on drunken driving charges in 2008 plan to sue the agency, the Sheriff's Office said Wednesday.

The cases stem from a review of video in the sheriff's breath-testing facility to ensure machines were properly maintained and all rules were followed, said Kevin Hayslett, the attorney for both plaintiffs.

Stephen J. Daniels of DUI Undo Consultants requested hundreds of hours of video from the Sheriff's Office to determine if the rules were being followed and came across two videos that he said "disturbed him."

The first video shows Michael Markell, a 24-year-old Tampa resident, being given a breath test at the Orient Road Jail on Oct. 11, 2008.

Videos released Wednesday by the Sheriff's Office show Markell being escorted to the breath-testing area by a deputy. At one point, the deputy leans in close to Markell.

Markell told his lawyer and his mother, Debra Dempsey, that the deputy choked him, leaving red marks around his neck. But at the moment of the alleged attack, the two officers block the camera's view.

The second video involves the arrest of Wanda Sullivan, a 49-year-old Brandon resident, on May 27, 2008. She was in the breath-testing area when her head slumped back and she remained motionless in the chair.

The video shows a deputy grabbing her by the arm and dragging her into a room off camera. She emerged several minutes later walking and talking.

Hayslett said Sullivan's head slammed against a wall while being dragged through the door, but that action doesn't happen in the camera's view.

In an arrest report, a deputy wrote that Sullivan slumped down in a chair as if she was passed out but remained "completely responsive and talkative."

Neither Markell nor Sullivan filed a complaint after the incidents, said sheriff's attorney Thea Clark.

That's not uncommon, Hayslett said, because some people fear a complaint "may make their punishment more harsh." He couldn't say specifically why Sullivan and Markell waited to make a complaint.

The Sheriff's Office legal counsel received the notice of intent to sue on Sept. 21, Clark said.

"If this is an attempt to garner attention with the hopes of embarrassing the Sheriff's Office into a quick settlement, we can tell you that's not going to happen," sheriff's attorney Mike Perotti said.

An internal investigation found no wrongdoing by the deputies.

Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at (813) 226-3373 or rmitchell@sptimes.com.

Hillsborough sheriff facing two legal claims for jail treatment 10/07/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 7, 2009 11:44pm]
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