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Lawsuit alleges Washington County jail captain arrested for following proper procedure

Megan Guza
| Friday, July 20, 2018, 3:45 p.m.
A city of Washington police officer is caught on security camera allegedly arresting a county jail captain on Sunday, May 27, 2018.
A city of Washington police officer is caught on security camera allegedly arresting a county jail captain on Sunday, May 27, 2018.

A captain at the Washington County jail is suing the city of Washington and a city police officer because she says she was arrested and detained for following proper jail procedure.

Capt. Wendy Harris alleges in the lawsuit that Officer Joseph Moore arrested and placed her in handcuffs “out of anger because he was being told by a female that he could not get his way.”

According to the lawsuit, Harris was working as the supervisor on duty at the jail May 27 Moore brought Benjamin Burgess to the jail about 11:40 p.m., according to the lawsuit.

Moore wanted Burgess committed to the jail. Court records show Burgess was charged for allegedly driving under the influence May 27. The charges were filed two days later.

An officer on duty at the jail noted an injury to the left side of Burgess’s head that was red and swollen with multiple staples, according to the lawsuit. The officer, Adam Leech, called for the on-duty nurse, Ron Markel, to evaluate Burgess.

An attorney for Harris noted in the lawsuit that the jail cannot accept a new inmate if it’s determined that they need medical treatment beyond that which can be provided by the jail. Markel, in this instance, determined that Burgess needed medical treatment and they jail could not accept him – meaning Moore would have to transport Burgess for treatment.

The lawsuit alleges that Moore “became angry and began yelling” upon hearing this and, when Harris stepped in and reiterated jail policy, Moore “became irate and started screaming abusively at (Harris).”

Moore allegedly continued to scream profanities and abuses at Harris, all while demanding he be allowed to leave without Burgess and threatening Harris with arrest, according to the lawsuit.

Harris called 911 to contact Moore’s supervisor, at which point a sergeant on duty at the jail tried to explain to Moore that he could not arrest Harris for doing jer job.

According to the lawsuit: “(Moore) then lunged at (Harris), grabbed her by the arms and roughly handcuffed her while stating he was placing her under arrest.”

Security footage of the incident was obtained through a Right to Know request by Tribune-Review news partner WPXI-TV. It allegedly shows Moore leading Harris through the room in handcuffs.

The sergeant on duty called Warden Edward Strawn and Moore’s supervisor, Lt. Robert Lemmons, according to the lawsuit. Harris allegedly remained handcuffed for 20 minutes “in front of her entire staff and several inmates.” She was released when Straw told Moore to remove the handcuffs.

Strawn told the officers that “on this one occasion” he would allow EMS to come to the facility and look at Burgess – as long as both Moore and Lemmons would leave the jail, according to the suit.

Moore resigned last week.

Harris alleges in the lawsuit that Moore violated her Fourth Amendments rights and subjected her to pain, suffering, emotional distress and trauma and severe anxiety and embarrassment. The lawsuit also alleges false imprisonment, gross negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and assault and battery.

The lawsuit calls Moore’s arrest of Harris “an egregious and unconscionable abuse of power.”

Washington City officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, mguza@tribweb.com or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.

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