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Former inmate files lawsuit against Montgomery County Jail

A new federal lawsuit against the Montgomery County Jail is at least the 11th in recent years alleging mistreatment of a person in custody.

Tonya Varney, 47, filed the complaint Wednesday claiming she was shoved on May 19, 2017, by Montgomery County Sheriff’s Sgt. Thomas Feehan after she balked at entering a female wait area cell because she thought there was urine on the floor. The suit says jail staffers said the liquid was water after the floor had been cleaned. Soon after that, Varney claims she was shoved into the cell.

The suit says Varney suffered injuries to her arm and needed a three-day hospital stay that all totaled more than $90,000. She says her injuries are “permanent and debilitating.”

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Court records show Varney was arrested before 5 a.m. that day by Riverside police for driving under the influence and taken to jail.

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Video without any sound obtained by this news organization from Varney’s attorney, Kenneth Ignozzi, appears to show that at 5:39 a.m., a corrections officer unlocks a room and peers into it.

Tonya Varney (Staff Writer)

About 20 seconds later, Varney walks to the threshold of the doorway, then appears to notice something on the floor, gestures, then backs away from the doorway.

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She gestures again toward the room’s floor and appears to say something to the three male and one female jail employees then in view of the camera.

About 40 seconds after the door was unlocked, one male officer identified by Ignozzi as Feehan appears to grab Varney’s left shoulder and push her into the room.

Varney can be seen through a window of the room falling to the floor and appears to grimace. The video segment ends with Varney on her right side and the four officers walking away.

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The suit names as defendants Feehan, Sheriff Phil Plummer and various John and Jane Does.

Plummer told this news organization Wednesday he would review the lawsuit before making any comment.

Varney was later found guilty and ordered to attend a three-day intervention program, had her license suspended for a year with work, medical and family needs privileges.

The suit says that at 6:24 a.m., a medic was called on a report of an inmate claiming her right wrist and arm were fractured. The complaint said Varney was given an ice pack and placed on a nurse list for a possible X-ray.

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“A reasonably competent police officer and/or corrections officer would not consider the use of the amount of force, under these circumstances, reasonable,” wrote Ignozzi.

Ignozzi wrote that at about 9 a.m. that day, Varney was transported to Miami Valley Hospital for treatment including “open reduction and internal fixation surgery” that led to a three-day admission and follow-up treatment. The suit said necessary medical expenses were in excess of $92,635.67.

The suit claims a sheriff’s office internal investigation found that Feehan didn’t record his use of force with a camera and didn’t file a use of force report about the incident. It says Feehan was disciplined for not filling out a use of force but not for his actions and not required to fill out such a report later.

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“It was an intentional act of Defendants Feehan and Plummer to not complete a Use of Force Report so that there would be a lack of evidence of the excessive use of force and less likelihood that the matter would be made public and/or result in litigation,” Ignozzi wrote, suggesting a possible coverup.

Of the other 10 most recent lawsuits against jail personnel, four have settled out of court for a total of $888,000 plus attorney fees. Those settlements were to Amber Swink for $375,000, Marsha Pate-Strickland for $75,000, Darryl Wallace for $58,000 and Emily Evans for $380,000.

The county won a case in federal court brought by another former inmate. The other cases are pending

In the Evans case, Feehan was disciplined for pointing a Taser at Evans’ face before another jail employee slammed or guided Evans to the floor, according to sheriff’s office records.

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