Attorneys for a former inmate at the Wake County jail filed a federal lawsuit late Wednesday alleging a detention officer slammed the inmate into a wall and bench because he failed to keep his mouth open for observation for several minutes during a strip search.
The lawsuit also accuses Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison of running a jail that fails to properly investigate detention officers' beatings of inmates in places where surveillance cameras are not in place to observe what happened.
Eugene Dunston, 50, a Wake County resident, is one of three inmates who suffered injuries after being strip searched by the same detention officer, Michael J. Hayes, in the past 15 months. Dunston said he suffered a deep gash over one eye and a torn ear.
Jail officials have disputed the claims of assault and abuse, and Hayes, 38, has not received suspensions or demotions for any of the incidents.
Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby declined to press charges after a State Bureau of Investigation probe. Willoughby said Hayes had used necessary force after Wrenn came at him. Willoughby also said Wrenn likely had a pre-existing condition such as an aneurysm that burst after the single blow.
Another former inmate, Devaughn Holmes, 36, of Fuquay-Varina, said Hayes broke his right arm in a struggle during a strip search on Sept. 27, 2010, because Holmes did not want to wear what he described as soiled underwear. Jail officials say he did not report the broken arm. Medical records from the night after he left the jail show it was broken just below the elbow.
Dunston said while he was naked and in handcuffs, Hayes, a body builder, slammed him head first into the wall and bench. Dunston said Hayes was angry because Dunston had closed his mouth during the strip search before Hayes had told him he could. Detention officers look into the mouths of incoming prisoners to make sure they are not bringing contraband into the prison.
Dunston said Hayes had made him keep his mouth open for roughly 10 minutes, and he closed it because it ached.
In the lawsuit, Dunston also alleges another officer beat him a year earlier on a cell floor. Dunston sought the video, but the sheriff's department would not produce it, he said. In the end, he said he pleaded to assaulting the jailer, as part of a deal to be released for time served.
The strip-search rooms did not have surveillance cameras when Dunston, Holmes and Wrenn were handled by Hayes. Last month, the jail installed cameras in them, and the day of Dunston's injuries, Hayes was transferred out of the booking area and into a jail annex that houses well-behaved inmates.
Jail officials have said Hayes' transfer had nothing to do with the injury claims, but they declined to say whether the cameras were installed in response to them.
Raleigh attorneys Gregory Kash and Eric Doggett are representing Dunston.