Ex-Lucas County officer allegedly assaulted prisoners

His civil rights trial begins in U.S. court

Bunke


While a corrections officer at the Lucas County jail, Seth Bunke had authority over the inmates he supervised – a power federal prosecutors say he abused, but one that defense attorneys said was used appropriately when subduing angry prisoners. 

Mr. Bunke, 26, now of Jacksonville, N.C., faces five counts of deprivation of rights under the color of law for alleged assaults that occurred while he was employed by the Lucas County sheriff’s department. His trial, which is expected to last five days, began yesterday in U.S. District Court in Toledo. 

During a half-hour opening statement, Eric Gibson, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, portrayed the 6-foot, 6-inch, 275-pound Mr. Bunke as a man who “abused his power and violated the rights of his fellow citizens.” 

He said that on four different occasions in 2007, while Mr. Bunke was employed at the jail, the former corrections officer assaulted inmates. In another incident, Mr. Bunke claimed to be a police officer when he pulled over two men he apparently suspected of drunken driving, Mr. Gibson said. 

“Seth Bunke did whatever he saw fit whenever he wanted,” Mr. Gibson said, adding it could be “stopping citizens on the street” or “brutalizing inmates.” 

Mr. Gibson outlined the various incidents that involved inmates detained in the jail but not yet found guilty of a crime. He labeled an incident July 11 as the “coup de grace,” saying Mr. Bunke repeatedly kicked inmate Jeff Jones in the head and side after an oral altercation that occurred while the prisoner was being strip-searched. 

Jones, who was incarcerated on a probation violation stemming from a drug charge, was hospitalized for several days afterward with a collapsed lung. He has since sued Mr. Bunke, the county, and the sheriff’s department. 

Mr. Bunke is also charged with civil rights violations for four other incidents – on March 10, May 5, May 6, and July 10. Mr. Gibson said in each case, Mr. Bunke aggressively attacked an inmate, which was not in accordance with his training. 

Defense attorney Rick Kerger told jurors during a half-hour opening statement the jail is a “hostile environment” where many of the inmates are angry. That anger, he said, comes back into the jail and onto the floors. 

“The guards, the corrections officers – they have to control them,” he said of unruly inmates. And to do that, all they have are “their hands and their feet.” 

Mr. Kerger said each of the incidents outlined in the indictment against Mr. Bunke were handled “by the book.” 

He said inmates are told they are to listen to orders given by staff and that corrections officers are told to discipline inmates in private so a prisoner is not tempted to “save face” and cause a disturbance. 

“That’s the environment there, and when you go into a module, you’re all alone,” he said. “You have to command the respect of inmates.” 

Mr. Gibson said Mr. Bunke’s aggressive behavior went outside the jail when, on March 13, 2007, he stopped two men who were driving home. Mr. Bunke allegedly showed the men his badge and uniform and detained them. 

“He claims to be an officer, which he is not,” Mr. Gibson said. 

Mr. Kerger acknowledged that Mr. Bunke detained two men he believed had been driving drunk. But he questioned whether Mr. Bunke would have faced charges if he had stopped a drunken driver. 

“Those folks were stopped for a period of time and they were found to be sober, fine,” he said. “What if they weren’t?” 

Mr. Bunke, a Marine Corps veteran who became known for his role in assisting rescued prisoner-of-war Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch in Iraq in 2003, resigned from the sheriff’s department in July, 2007, just days after the incident involving Jones. 

He has since moved to North Carolina but returned to Toledo in February when he was arrested. 

As a corrections officer, Mr. Bunke was paid a salary of $27,000. 

Charges are pending against two other men in connection with the July 11 incident involving Jones. 

Sheriff’s Deputy Joel McConnell, 28, and James Kotlarcyk, 44, a corrections officer, each face one count each of conspiracy and falsification of records for allegedly falsifying reports of the incident. Currently still employed at the sheriff’s department, Mr. Kotlarcyk and Deputy McConnell have a Dec. 9 trial date set. 

Mr. Bunke’s trial will resume today with Judge Jack Zouhary presiding. The jury of 11 women and three men will be taken to view the fifth floor of the jail, where Jones was allegedly assaulted, before the first witness testifies. Among those subpoenaed is Sheriff James Telb

source: . http://toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081008/NEWS02/810080374

 

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