Those documents revealed more –- and sometimes conflicting –- accounts of what transpired last year between the sheriff, the deputy and a 14-year-old boy participating in a jail program for teens.
The boy’s mother, Stacy Brown, filed suit against the sheriff and Deputy Wendell Ward in April 2011, claiming they physically and verbally abused her son during the day he spent at the jail. Surveillance video taken from the jail on Feb. 4, 2011, shows Amerson using manual force on the Anniston boy, who is shackled, handcuffed and dressed in an inmate jumpsuit.
In a sworn affidavit filed on May 25, Amerson described some of his videotaped actions as reasonable attempts to keep Brown’s son from spitting on him rather than a use of excessive force, one of the three specific allegations still standing against the sheriff.
“I reacted quickly and leaned him back and placed my hand over his jaw and mouth and informed him in no uncertain terms that he would not spit on me,” Amerson says in the affidavit as he describes his version of his actions captured by the surveillance video.
New motion by defense
That statement and another from Ward are two of 33 legal documents filed by defense lawyers as evidence in their motion for the judge to rule in their clients’ favor before trial, also known as a summary judgment. Currently, a jury trial is set for July. Together, Amerson and Ward face three standing claims of abuse in the suit: use of excessive force, failure to prevent violations of the boy’s rights, and violation of the 14-year-old’s 14th Amendment rights. Specifically, the suit charges that Amerson violated the 14th Amendment violating the boy’s “bodily integrity” which has been interpreted as a 14th Amendment right in some federal court cases.
The motion for summary judgment asks for the dismissal of the suit under “qualified immunity,” which claims the defendants’ roles as law enforcement officers protect them from such allegations.
Attorneys for Brown and her son –- identified only as “J.B.” in the lawsuit -– said they have not had time to look over the motion for summary judgment, which was filed just before Memorial Day weekend. Anthony Bush, one of those plaintiff’s attorneys, declined to comment on the case other than to say he plans to file a response by June 26.
Attempts Tuesday to reach the lawyers representing Amerson and Ward were unsuccessful.
The evidentiary records filed by the defense shed new light on the day J.B. spent at the Calhoun County Jail, based on written statements from law enforcement personnel, and depositions of J.B. and his mother. Information from the original suit previously established that Brown had voluntarily enrolled J.B. in the jail program for teens after he was suspended from school for violating an Internet policy. While Brown’s son was there, jail officers directed J.B. and the only other teenage participant to wear jumpsuits and clean the walls with toothbrushes, the recent court records show. Originally, plaintiff’s attorneys tried to argue the jail program for teens was a “scared straight” initiative that violated the federal Juvenile Justice Act. But in December the federal judge ruled that was not the case, because Brown’s son was not a youthful offender or charged with a crime when he participated in the jail program.
Regardless, the original lawsuit claims that Ward used racial slurs and threatened J.B. with violence when addressing the boy after a tour of the jail. Statements filed May 25 from Ward, Amerson and 12 other corrections officers and deputies make counter-allegations that the 14-year-old was cursing, hitting the officers and acting “out of control.”
“I spoke strongly to him regarding his disrespect that he showed and then walked away,” Ward says in the affidavit. “I did not threaten him.”
Defense attorneys submitted extended video clips to the judge as evidence for their case, according to online court records. The Star was unable to obtain those clips Tuesday. But the recently-filed statements from Ward, Amerson and others indicate the videos show J.B.’s behavior before and after the two-minute clip revealing the sheriff’s use of force against the shackled teen. The shackles and handcuffs were used, according to the defense’s evidence, as a way to stop him from attacking law enforcement personnel.
Eventually, the sheriff was called in to speak to J.B. about “his behavior and the issues that he had with my staff,” Amerson says in the affidavit.
“I heard the Plaintiff make a hocking noise as if he were going to spit on me,” the affidavit reads. “Between this noise, his past behavior and his emotional state, I had no doubt in my mind that he was going to use his last weapon that he had, his head, and spit on me.”
J.B. tells a different story during his deposition, taken one month ago in the presence of the sheriff, Ward, his mother and both sets of attorneys.
J. Randall McNeill, one of the defense lawyers, asks the boy several different times throughout the interview whether he spit on the sheriff. J.B. denies doing so after each question.
J.B. also disputes that Amerson put his hands over the boy’s mouth, as the sheriff claims in his affidavit.
“Would you agree that’s not around your throat? It’s actually over your mouth,” McNeill asks J.B. in the part of the deposition where he reviews the video with the boy.
“That’s around my throat, sir,” J.B. replies. The Anniston boy goes on to recount a threat he said the sheriff made while “he had his hand around me when my head was back,” according to the deposition.
“I’m going to make sure everybody see this,” J.B. recalled saying to the sheriff in that moment.
The sheriff replied: “Nobody will ever see this video,” J.B. says in the deposition. “‘This is my jail.’"
Charges against J.B.
The sheriff’s affidavit makes no mention of that exchange, stating only that Amerson tried to counsel J.B. about his behavioral issues, eventually removed his handcuffs and led him out of the room where he had been shackled.
Then, the defense’s brief in support of summary judgment says, J.B. tried to “goad” other law enforcement officers to “become physical with him.” J.B. was placed in another room at the jail, where he ripped wiring from the walls and tried to break the glass part of the door with a chair, the documents state.
As a result, J.B. was later charged with criminal mischief and harassment; defense attorneys filed the corresponding incident and arrest reports as evidence. In her own deposition, J.B.’s mother said those criminal charges against her son are still pending, because prosecutors keep asking for continuances in the cases.
Brown is seeking $500,000 in compensatory damages for each claim in the civil rights suit, as well as $500,000 each in punitive damages against Amerson and Ward.
Star Staff Writer Cameron Steele: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @Csteele_star.