Former sheriff’s sergeant alleges jail cover-up

A former Montgomery County Sheriff’s sergeant accused in a lawsuit of beating jailed homeless veteran Joseph Guglielmo into a coma announced before the incident that he planned to “beat that old man’s (expletive),” according to testimony in the lawsuit from another former sergeant.

Sgt. Eric Banks, who retired from the department on medical disability this month, was deposed Nov. 15 in Guglielmo’s lawsuit against the county, Sheriff Phil Plummer and six sheriff’s employees.

One of those employees is former Sgt. Matthew Snyder. According to the lawsuit, he “beat Guglielmo repeatedly and threw him against the concrete wall” and “delivered several closed-fist strikes” to Guglielmo’s head, eye area and abdomen.

Snyder and other corrections officers named in the suit deny any excessive use of force. An internal review of the incident determined that Snyder did not violate agency policy.

Banks says in the deposition that Snyder was upset with Guglielmo because the inmate was yelling and banging his fist on the window of the cell during roll call.

Snyder was a sergeant at the time of the incident and later took a voluntary demotion to deputy. In his deposition, Banks said Snyder told him “he didn’t want to be a sergeant after that incident.”

Banks accuses the sheriff’s office of attempting to sweep under the rug alleged excessive use-of-force incidents.

“That makes everybody — that makes it harder to do the profession when people are getting away with this stuff because it brings more scrutiny on people who are trying to do their job the right way,” Banks said according to a transcript of his deposition, which is filed in U.S. District Court.

Asked to respond to the allegations by Banks, Plummer said the county’s attorneys have advised him not to comment.

The Guglielmo incident occurred on Jan. 16, 2015. In November of that year, a female inmate was pepper-sprayed while strapped into a restraint chair.

A video of the incident, released by the woman’s attorney, shows sheriff’s Capt. Judith Sealey administering the pepper spray to the bound woman, Amber Swink.

Swink filed a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office, which was settled for $375,000. Sealey was charged with misdemeanor assault and has pleaded not guilty. A federal investigation is also ongoing.

SPECIAL REPORT: Justice in the Jailhouse — Lawsuits, accusations plague county jails in the region

Banks said he reported the pepper-spray incident to his supervisors because he thought the department under-responded to the Guglielmo case.

But after he talked to jail Capt. Charles Crosby about the Swink incident, Banks says, “They took some drastic steps to prevent that case from ever being exposed.”

In the deposition, Banks testifies that “a massive amount of video was erased off of the V drive in the jail computer” a few days after he and another sergeant reported the pepper-spray incident.

Swink’s attorney, Douglas Brannon, has never said where he got the video, which he posted online when Swink filed her lawsuit in September 2016.

RELATED: County spending on jail lawsuits tops $1M

Banks was deposed by Brannon, who is also representing Guglielmo in his lawsuit. The transcript shows Banks repeatedly declined to have an attorney present, though the county interrupted the deposition to offer to hire him one.

“All my intention was to tell the truth about what happened,” Banks says in the deposition.

Guglielmo incident

Banks testified that he was working on the night when Guglielmo was injured.

“When Snyder began his roll call on the platform of the jail, Guglielmo was banging his fist on the window and yelling, and Synder was getting upset he was interrupting roll call,” Banks testified.

“He said something to the effect of, ‘After roll call, we’re going to go down there and beat that old man’s (expletive),’” he said.

An email was sent to the sheriff’s office providing Snyder an opportunity to comment for this story. He did not respond.

Guglielmo had already been moved into a transport staging cell to keep him from disturbing other inmates. Banks said he was not with Snyder and the group of corrections officers who went down to Guglielmo’s cell. 

Jail cameras show them walking up to the door of the cell but don’t capture what happened inside.

RELATED: Officer cleared for alleged beating of homeless vet, records show

A sheriff’s office internal affairs investigation later determined that Snyder properly used force during the altercation, which occurred when Guglielmo grabbed Snyder, according to the report. The inmate suffered a head injury and was moved to another cell for observation, where he was later found non-responsive and rushed to the hospital for emergency brain surgery.

Banks testified that he spoke to Snyder after it became clear Guglielmo was seriously injured.

“Snyder was like, ‘I don’t know – I don’t know what’s going on with him, I don’t think that I hurt him that bad,’ or something to that effect,” Banks testified. “Snyder said that he had pushed Guglielmo – had shoved Guglielmo back and that he had hit his head on the wall and that then he got on top of Guglielmo and struck him a couple of times, and then the incident was over.”

Banks said one of the corrections officers who was in the room told him Snyder incited Guglielmo by calling him an anti-gay slur.

RELATED: Sergeant named in jail assault lawsuit sought demotion

Banks said he wasn’t interviewed as part of the internal affairs investigation, which he believes should have at least found someone out of compliance with jail rules that require the presence of a hand-held camera in use-of-force situations.

“They were looking to come up with a conclusion that everybody acted properly,” he said of the IA investigation.

Sealey incident reported

Banks’ deposition gives his version of what happened in both the Guglielmo and Swink incidents. He said he informed Crosby, one of his supervisors, about the Swink pepper-spraying weeks after it happened.

“I told him I was upset that nothing was being done about it, that he was ignoring it, and he got very angry and told me that’s already – ‘how do you know that’s not already being looked into,’ and I said, ‘Well, if it is, it’s news to me,’” Banks said.

RELATED: Sheriff: Missing Swink video isolated caseUnlike the Guglielmo incident, no internal investigation was initially launched after Swink was pepper-sprayed, according to sheriff’s records.

Plummer has said an internal review was initiated after Swink filed her lawsuit.

Sealey was promoted from sergeant to captain in February 2016, approximately three months after Swink was pepper-sprayed. A month after the promotion, Sealey received a “letter of caution” by then-jail commander Maj. Scott Landis for not completing a use-of-force report on the Swink incident.

The timeline for precisely when the video disappeared is not clear, but after Brannon posted a copy online, it garnered national media attention.

Sealey was placed on paid administrative leave in October 2016. She returned to the department in May of this year after a grand jury declined to bring felony assault charges, and has applied for medical retirement.

RELATED: Jail captain charged with assault for pepper-spraying inmate

RELATED: Missing paperwork raises questions about pepper spray probe

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