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Hillsborough Sheriff's Office says jail deputy used excessive force

TAMPA — A Hillsborough detention deputy used excessive force on an inmate when he pulled the man down to the ground and demanded he pick up a piece of paper, according to a Sheriff's Office investigation concluded Wednesday.

Detention Deputy Mark L. Mullins, an 18-year Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office veteran, would have been fired had he not resigned the day after the investigation started, said Col. Jim Previtera, head of the county's jails.

Two of Mullins' supervisors were each suspended five days in connection with the May 4 incident because they didn't interview witnesses and report it to supervisors, Previtera said.

This is what the Sheriff's Office investigation determined:

About 6:35 p.m. on May 4, Mullins walked into a holding cell to read some information off inmate Richard E. Nichols' wristband. Nichols, who had been arrested on a charge of soliciting on a roadway, had been put into the cell after causing a disruption during a head count.

As Mullins stepped away, he asked Nichols, 55, to pick up a piece of paper the inmate had thrown on the ground. Nichols refused and cursed at Mullins.

That's when Mullins grabbed Nichols by the arm and took him to the floor, Previtera said.

"The (surveillance) video clearly showed the deputy grabbed the inmate by the right arm and shoulder and pulled him onto the floor and grabbed the piece of paper and shoved it in his face," Previtera said.

After Nichols got up, he punched Mullins in the back of the head, Previtera said.

Mullins later reported that he had calmly ordered Nichols to pick up the trash.

He said that Nichols then grabbed his wrist and as he tried to pull away, Nichols fell to the ground.

"The video does not support that," Previtera said.

The internal investigation concluded that not only did Mullins use excessive force, but he also falsified official documents, had "unbecoming conduct" and didn't comply with a superior order.

Attempts to reach Mullins on Thursday were not successful.

The investigation also concluded that Lt. Chris Allen didn't inform his supervisors of the confrontation, which would have resulted in an internal affairs investigation being launched, Previtera said. And Sgt. George Russell didn't interview several witnesses, Previtera said.

Nichols was not charged with hitting Mullins, Previtera said, because Mullins initiated the confrontation.

Mullins' history with the Sheriff's Office shows that he was suspended one day in 1994 for excessive force without injury, and he received a letter of counseling in 2003 for inattention to duties and misuse of communications.

Times news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at or (813) 226-3433.

Hillsborough Sheriff's Office says jail deputy used excessive force 08/05/10 [Last modified: Friday, August 6, 2010 8:16am]
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