A former Lancaster County Prison inmate claims in a lawsuit that one guard shoved him into a wall when he became frustrated at the man's difficulty walking in prison footwear due to an amputated toe.
Then, Braxton Witherspoon said in the suit, several guards slammed him into walls and doors, pushed him onto a bunk bed and jumped on him, which broke his leg and caused him further pain.
Witherspoon, 53, of Columbia, filed his federal civil rights suit May 14 in Pennsylvania's Eastern District. He is seeking $150,000, plus punitive damages and other costs. The suit accuses the prison of ignoring excessive force, thereby creating an atmosphere that allowed abuse to continue unchecked.
County solicitor Chris Hausner said in an email Thursday that the county would defend the claim "as our investigation demonstrates that no excessive force was involved, and counsel will be filing appropriate responsive pleadings."
The lawsuit names as defendants Warden Cheryl Steberger and guards Adam Walker, Jose Colon Collozo, Brent Ogborn, Caleb Simmers, Cody Albright and Peter Ireland. All the guards execpt one, who left for another job unrelated to Witherspoon's allegations, are still employed at the prison, Hausner said.
Witherspoon claims in the suit that he was assaulted May 15, 2018, on the way back from a bail hearing.
West Hempfield Township police had arrested Witherspoon earlier that day and charged him with criminal trespass and possession of drug paraphernalia, according to court documents. He spent about two weeks in prison after being unable to post $5,000 cash bail, before being released on unsecured bail May 29. He pleaded guilty to both charges July 12, 2019, and was sentenced to time served.
Witherspoon's attorney, Kevin Allen, of Lancaster, declined comment.
Witherspoon's is the second suit claiming excessive force by a guard and a culture that allows it at the prison.
In February, Hilary Caleb Gbotoe, of Lancaster, claimed a guard twice threw him against a wall and pushed him without reason in August 2019 while he was returning to his cell, reinjuring a gunshot wound. He's seeking more than $100,000.
In an April 16 court filing, the county denied the guard used excessive force and said any injury Gbotoe might have gotten was a result of his own actions. The county also asked judge to dismiss the case. A conference in that case has been scheduled for Feb. 24, 2021.