Dayton officials have asked their counterparts in Cincinnati to decide whether a corrections officer at the Montgomery County Jail committed a crime when she pepper sprayed an inmate who was strapped into a seven-point harness.
Montgomery County prosecutors already have passed on felony charges in the case, which spurred a civil lawsuit — including allegations of cover-up — and an ongoing federal investigation.
Judith Sealey, who was a sergeant at the time of the 2015 incident but later was promoted to captain, returned to work earlier this year after the county prosecutor said a grand jury declined to pursue charges.
The lawsuit brought by the inmate, Amber Swink, was settled last week with the county agreeing to pay $375,000.
But Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck Jr. in announcing there wasn’t sufficient evidence for felony assault charges, noted that the city of Dayton could still consider misdemeanor assault charges.
Dayton spokeswoman Toni Bankston said in a statement this week:
“We have referred the case to the Cincinnati prosecutors office. However, if they find charges those charges will be filed in Dayton Municipal Court. As you may recall, earlier this year Montgomery County created a jail oversight task force to review/investigate potential issues at the jail. Stephanie Cook (Dayton city Prosecutors Office) was among those who were selected to serve on this committee.
“Although she was appointed prior to receiving this case, we felt it was a conflict and made the decision to have another office review the case and potential charges.”
Rocky Merz, spokesman for the city of Cincinnati, confirmed Tuesday that his city’s prosecutor’s office has been asked to serve as special counsel in the case, but did not provide any official timetable.
“They’re just beginning to look at the case and gather information,” Merz said. “They haven’t made any official decision about any charges but it’s being reviewed.”
Sealey pepper-sprayed inmate Swink while Swink was strapped into a restraint chair on Nov. 15, 2015. The incident was captured on jailhouse video.
In addition to potential misdemeanor charges, Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer has said Sealey still could face administrative action. Internal reviews are usually done after criminal cases have been closed.
In October 2016, Plummer asked Dayton police to investigate the incident and placed Sealey on administrative leave. She returned to work May 3 after the grand jury decision.
We have reached out to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office and to Sealey’s attorney and will update this story when we hear back from them.
SPECIAL PROJECT: Lawsuits, accusations plague region’s county jails