MCSO Officers Cleared After Internal Review Of Inmate Assault, Tasing

Published: Thursday, January 11, 2018 - 4:44pm
Updated: Friday, January 12, 2018 - 8:26am

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MSCO) released files Thursday from an investigation into an altercation between correction officers and an inmate in December 2016.

According to multiple accounts from employees, detention officers were attempting to remove Pedro Ramos from his cell after discovering several bottles of jail-made alcohol on Dec. 30, 2016.

During the course of extracting and moving Ramos, the inmate’s wrist was cut, he punched an officer, and a Taser was deployed to try to get Ramos to comply.

Officer Christopher White filed a complaint with the department alleging that the sergeant overseeing the situation — Ian LaBorde — used actions that “were not tactical nor professional and caused numerous injuries to officers and the inmate involved.”

An internal investigation of the incident by MCSO found that Sgt. Ian LaBorde “mismanaged the use of force which resulted in the inmate sustaining injuries.” MCSO gave LaBorde an eight-hour suspension.

LaBorde ordered Officer Cody Lane to use his Taser on Ramos, a violation of MCSO’s Taser Device Deployment policy, which prohibits use on a “passive resistant subject.”

Lane was given a written reprimand for following LaBorde’s order to use the Taser on Ramos. According to the Sheriff’s Office, Laborde is currently employed by MCSO. Lane is no longer employed by the Sheriff’s Office.

The County Attorney’s Office declined to pursue criminal charges against any of the officers involved in the incident due to “no reasonable likelihood of conviction.”

Ramos is currently being held in the Arizona Department Of Corrections.

Special Response Teams

Sheriff Paul Penzone issued a statement saying that while the incident occurred before he took office in 2017, it was a factor in his decision to reinstate a Special Response Team. In a speech outlining his 100-day plan in January 2017, Penzone announced he was bringing back the SRT, a team of officers trained to handle riots and extraction situations in county jails.

Thor Eells is the executive director of National Tactical Officers Association, a group that trains law enforcement personnel. He says officers on special response teams in a jail setting face unique challenges compared to members of a traditional SWAT team. “They can’t have the same kinds of weapons just because of the danger of being inside the facility,” he said.

Eells said having such a team at a jail improves safety for the inmates as well as the detention officers. “These teams receive additional training in tactics, which mitigates the potential for injury,” he said. Eells says such teams are taught to work as a unit deploying less-lethal force, like chemical munitions, specialty impact munitions and Tasers.

“Some of the more ancillary benefits are a significant decrease in potential liability,” Eells said of developing a Special Response Team.

A 'Work In Progress'

Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio dissolved the original Maricopa County SRT in September 2016. Penzone’s office says the new administration reinstated a Special Response Team in March 2017. The Sheriff’s Office says the SRT will cost $1.2 million annually. Penzone’s office said the SRT was “funded with reinvestment of savings from the closure of Tent City,” which Penzone called a “small percentage” of the overall savings.

Penzone said he believes the team will pay for itself. “Because our hope is that it will reduce lawsuits that cost taxpayer dollars and run a more efficient, effective and safe jail system.”

Penzone said the incident with inmate Ramos depicts the challenges that detention officers face. “I recognize, as the head of this organization, that we have an obligation to ensure we’re delivering best practices and ensuring the safety of everyone we’re responsible for,” Penzone said. “With each incident, we want to learn and improve.”

Penzone said the 12-member team will not be available at all times, so they will be working with other detention officers to instruct them on how to better handle potentially violent altercations.

“They have to act as a bridge, so that when in position to respond, we can utilize them,” he said.

Penzone called the efforts to address safety in the jails a work in progress.

“We constantly encounter circumstances where we fall short of expectations or responsibilities and that wont change overnight,” Penzone said. “On a regular basis, I see our detention officers assaulted and at the same time, we have circumstances where we have to improve the responses by our detention officers in challenging circumstances. It’s a difficult proposition, but we constantly work to improve.”

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