A former Pinellas County corrections sergeant was arrested Monday on charges of battery and official misconduct after authorities say he slapped, punched and pushed a jail inmate and pulled out a clump of his hair, then lied about it.
The inmate, 41-year-old Terrell Johnson, had been arrested and booked into the Pinellas County Jail Nov. 18. The following day, he became agitated and uncooperative during an initial medical screening and was handcuffed and placed in a single cell, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said at a news conference Monday.
Johnson began yelling and kicking the cell door, Gualtieri said. Sgt. Patrick Knight, 51, was near Johnson’s cell, along with Cpl. Jameson Jessie. The two entered the cell, and Johnson turned to show them that the handcuffs were too tight, detectives said.
Knight then pushed Johnson, slamming him to the ground “without provocation,” Gualtieri said. Johnson’s head hit a cement bunk as he fell. Knight grabbed Johnson by the hair and pinned him to the wall — pulling Johnson’s hair so hard that a clump came out, the sheriff said. Knight then slapped Johnson in the face and punched him, causing a laceration over his left eye, Gualtieri added.
Johnson asked Knight why the sergeant was striking him and told Knight that he “went too far,” according to the Sheriff’s Office.
“Johnson did nothing at all that justified Sergeant Knight’s actions,” Gualtieri said.
After leaving Johnson’s cell, Knight reported the use of force to Lt. Priscilla Campbell and wrote an incident report. Campbell noticed inconsistencies between Knight’s description of what happened and the physical evidence, Gualtieri said.
Knight told Campbell he pulled Johnson’s hair, but he did not mention punching or slapping Johnson, Gualtieri said. Knight also lied and said he pushed Johnson to the ground because Johnson was trying to kick him, the sheriff added.
When Knight told Campbell that Johnson sustained injuries to the back of his head and a laceration over his eye from one fall backward, Gualtieri said, Campbell found the explanation unlikely and became suspicious.
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Jessie, who had witnessed the incident, initially gave a version of the story that was consistent with Knight’s description, but a few hours later Jessie recanted and told Campbell that Knight’s actions weren’t justified and he was wrong to strike Johnson, Gualtieri said.
Campbell notified commanders and the Sheriff’s Office launched an internal investigation. Knight resigned a few days later and was arrested Monday morning. He was released from the jail after posting a $2,500 bond.
Johnson was treated for the injuries he suffered and he has recovered, Gualtieri said.
“It doesn’t matter who you are or what you did, he didn’t deserve to get treated that way,” Gualtieri said.
Incidents like this hinder the Sheriff’s Office’s ability to build trust with the community, he said.
“When people say you’ve got some law enforcement officers out there that are bad — that aren’t doing the right thing, that are doing the wrong thing — they’re right,” Gualtieri said. “And all we can do is hold them accountable.”