Trial begins for OCJ jailer accused of assaulting inmate
Jury taken aback by video
Debby Schamber – For The Record
The trial of a former Orange County jailer, Brian David Lee, 40, began Monday.
Lee is accused of the aggravated assault of an inmate, Jerry Carthel, in January 2015. If convicted he faces first degree felony charges and up to 99 years in prison. He is also eligible for probation.
Carthel had reported his vehicle stolen while he was at the Bayou Club on Simmons Drive. It was later recovered and when officers from the Orange Police Department went to return the keys to him they discovered he was “highly” intoxicated. It was determined he was unable to drive so the officers attempted to assist him in getting a ride home. However, they were unsuccessful. Witnesses at the scene informed officers Carthel had been at the club for some time in a corner. He had been seen drinking and occasionally sleeping.
Carthel informed officers alcohol no longer “did the trick” so he had also been drinking mouthwash. According to court testimony, mouthwash is about 26 percent alcohol. The officers located a large bottle which was about half empty in his pants. Officers disposed of the mouthwash at the scene. Fearing Carthel was a danger to himself and others he was taken into custody on a charge of public intoxication.
Once he was placed into the back seat of the patrol vehicle, he began yelling and banging his head against the windows. The officers told him to stop and he quickly complied.
Once inside the jail, Carthel is lead to the area where he will be begin to be booked into the jail. He began to beat his head against the wall. He is told to stop and he complied.
Lee was a few hours into his shift at the jail when he received notice another inmate was being brought into the jail. At the end of the hallway from the sallyport there is an area in the jail where inmates are patted down while still in handcuffs.
In a video admitted into evidence, Lee is seen putting on gloves to prepare for the pat down. He asks Carthel a few questions, one of which was if he had anything illegal on him which is an effort to protect jail personnel during the pat down. According to testimony, inmates have come into the jail with things such as knives, needles, drugs, etc.
Carthel appears to become agitated and used profanity when he said to take the handcuffs off. Lee stopped the pat down and leaned in towards Carthel and asks him, “What? What did you tell me to do?”
Quickly, Lee does a take down with Carthel and he lands with a loud thud. Jurors looked at the video numerous times throughout testimony. At times, some looked away or at the floor as it played.
The OPD officers who testified said the swift and sudden movements came as a shock to them.
Carthel is seen on the floor bleeding from his mouth. He moans and grunts and he repeatedly says he is sorry. He also complains of back pain. Other officers assist in controlling the situation by holding Carthel’s legs and placing part of their body against the upper portion of his body. A short time later the pat down is completed and he is moved to the nearby booking area.
Jail nurse, Tiffany Dickerson, testified because of the blood on the floor and the excess in his mouth she decided to send Carthel to a local hospital for evaluation. She also noticed Carthel had numerous decayed teeth but could not determine the source of the bleeding other than some sort of laceration in his mouth. She also said his movements were inconsistent with a back injury.
Once at the hospital it was determined Carthel had six broken ribs. As a precaution, Carthel had to be sent to a trauma hospital where he remained for a few days. His spine was not found to have any injury, according to the emergency room physician.
Following the incident, Texas Ranger Bobby Smith was called by Sheriff Keith Merritt, to investigate. Also an internal investigation was done by the chief deputy at the time, Clint Hodgkinson. It was determined by Hodgkinson, there were three departmental violations and in April, Lee was terminated.
According to a written statement from Lee read by Smith, Carthel had hold of one of his fingers and began to turn towards him which caused Lee to conduct the take down.
During his prior employment Lee had injured his finger and required two surgeries to repair it. The statement also read Lee did not know if Carthel had contraband on his person or if he was going to try and break his finger. Lee stated he did not lose his temper and reacted because of a possible injury.
It was also noted that although there were several camera angles available, it was not possible for Lee’s or Carthel’s hands to be seen clearly or at all. However, Smith testified he did not believe Carthel had Lee’s fingers because he would have had to contort his hands in a contorted manner in order to grab them. In addition, he thought because of Carthel’s level of intoxication and because he was unsteady on his feet, such a move would have not only been noticeable, but also very difficult.
“He pretty much threw him to the ground,” Smith told jurors.
Smith also told the jury he felt there were other options available other than taking Carthel down.
It was also said Lee was shocked to learn Carthel had broken ribs. In addition, it was suggested by his defense attorney during opening statements, Carthel could have had the broken ribs prior to his arrival at the jail.
Trial testimony resumes Wednesday in the 163rd District Court with Judge Dennis Powell presiding.