The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees North Carolina’s federal courts, has declined to throw out a lawsuit accusing three Wake County Detention Center officers of using excessive force.
In 2011 Eugene Dunston, an on-again, off-again inmate at the jail, sued the officers, as well as Sheriff Donnie Harrison, claiming that he failed to investigate previous complaints of brutality.
The complaint alleged that Michael Hayes, master detention officer, got upset after Dunston closed his mouth after 10 minutes during a strip search. Dunston claimed that Hayes, a bodybuilder, grabbed the nude Dunston by his neck and flung him headfirst into the concrete wall, then picked him up over his head and threw him headfirst into a bench. “You MY puppy!” Hayes yelled, according to Dunston.
On another occasion, Dunston alleged that detention officer Waco Douglas charged at him, threw him to the floor, dropped on top of him and began beating him about the face and head until other officers intervened. At that point, Dunston alleges, another detention officer, Duane Greenfield, began to kick and stomp on Dunston.
After the complaint was filed, the Sheriff’s Office filed a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds of qualified immunity.
Last week the Fourth Circuit published an opinion upholding a lower court’s denial of the Sheriff’s motion. The judges agreed that “a jury could conclude, based on the evidence viewed in the light most favorable to Dunston, that unnecessary and wanton pain and suffering was inflicted upon him on each occasion in question,” and that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity because Dunston has shown evidence that the officers potentially violated his 14th amendment rights
After the incident involving officers Dunston and Greenfield, Dunston was served with a warrant charging him with assault on a government official. He pleaded guilty because, his lawyers contend, he was offered a favorable deal that would reduce other charges, including probation violation and assault on a female, and the video of the alleged attack had not been produced in court.
His complaint alleges that Wake County detention officers took care to ensure prisoners were out of camera view during the use of force.