LARGO — A jail deputy was fired for striking an inmate who uses a wheelchair, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
The agency released video of the incident, which Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Friday was appalling and troubling to watch.
“One of the most troubling parts of it is it was done out of anger,” the sheriff said, “and he was going after a disabled person who can’t walk and can’t defend himself.”
The fired deputy, Aaron Hull, admitted to losing his patience, overreacting and responding inappropriately to the inmate’s actions, according to an internal sheriff’s investigation into the Sept. 24, 2018 incident.
Hull, 46, was counseling a group of inmates at the Pinellas County jail when one of them, Taylor Schuessler, 24, started to speak out against him and the other inmates. Schuessler was arrested by St. Petersburg police on Jan. 29, 2018, records show, on a charge of discharging a destructive device.
The deputy told the inmate to stop. Schuessler didn’t comply, the report said, so Hull stood up and kicked his own chair. The deputy then approached Schuessler, put his left hand on the inmate’s neck and started arguing with him. Throughout the exchange, the report said Hull poked Schuessler several times in the neck, causing the inmate to continue acting out.
“Kicking a chair is not the best action I could have taken,” Hull said during an interview with a review board. “Poking him in the head while not a use of force, per se, was probably inappropriate contact.” Then Hull grabbed the inmate’s shirt and continued the argument. Schuessler then spat in the deputy’s face, who the report said responded by striking the inmate three times on the left side of his face.
The deputy attempted to call for help, but the battery to his radio was dead. Nor did the deputy have his “duress alarm” with him, the report said. Hull started to move the inmate’s wheelchair from the area. Hull said the inmate tried to hit him with his elbows, fist and head. The deputy grabbed Schuessler around his torso until he started obeying orders. During the altercation, the report said the deputy knew the inmate could not stand on his own.
Hull was disciplined for similar behavior in 2015, the Sheriffs Office said. That year he flipped over a table after entering an inmate housing unit to resolve an issue with an inmate who damaging the table. Hull said he was trying to get the inmate’s attention. The deputy admitted to investigators that he could have done a better job handling the 2018 situation. “I messed up but I’ll take my lumps,” the deputy told the review board.
He was fired Thursday for violating sheriff’s regulations. Schuessler, who was also wanted on charges out of San Mateo, Calif., was released from the jail on Nov. 16. Gualtieri said the inmate declined to have the deputy prosecuted.
Contact McKenna Oxenden at [email protected] Follow @mack_oxenden.