CLEARFIELD – The fate of two county jail corrections officers accused of assaulting an inmate in June of 2017 will be decided by a jury today.
William B. McGroarty, 60, and Brian E. Showalter, 32, both of Clearfield, are facing charges of simple assault, recklessly endangering another person and criminal conspiracy.
Deputy Attorney General Bobbi Jo C. Wagner Esq. is prosecuting the case on behalf of the commonwealth. Senior Judge David Grine is presiding over the trial.
McGroarty is being represented by defense attorney T. Brent McCune of Pittsburgh. Showalter is being represented by R. Anthony Deluca, also of Pittsburgh.
The charges stem from an incident June 7, 2017 when the COs allegedly hit an inmate’s head off doorways, as he was transported from his block after he refused to lock down.
On Wednesday jurors heard from three inmates, all of whom were housed in the “D Block” at the time of the incident. They said the inmate was in the common area when he was ordered to lock down.
However, they said he refused because he wanted to finish watching the Pittsburgh Penguins’ playoff game. Because he ignored the CO’s verbal order, the light was flashed to signal for all inmates to lock down in their cells.
They said the inmate continued to refuse the CO’s orders, and this prompted the CO to call for back-up. Once several CO’s entered the room, they said the inmate voluntarily turned around and presented his wrists to be cuffed up.
They said he was cuffed by Showalter, then his arms were raised and he was put in a bent over position. They said during their incarceration, they hadn’t witnessed this done before.
Kaleb Lamb and Douglas Taylor, now state prison inmates, said the inmate was escorted by Showalter on his left side and McGroarty on his right side.
Lamb said he was “almost certain” the inmate hit his head on the way out and Taylor said he heard two “thumps” – one at the first door and one at the second door – heading out of D Block.
However, when questioned by Deluca and McCune, both Lamb and Taylor testified they neither saw Showalter nor McGroarty push or slam the inmate into a doorway.
All three said they saw the inmate before the incident, and he didn’t have any head or facial injuries.
Deputy Warden James Mitchley was on duty (then as a lieutenant) when the incident occurred the evening of June 7, 2017. He was in his office and heard the call for back-up come across the radio.
Because he was available, he responded and observed the inmate already in cuffs. He said the inmate’s arms were raised and he was put in a bent over position; he was escorted off the block by Showalter and McGroarty.
According to Mitchley, it’s at a CO’s discretion whether or not to cuff an inmate. He said they can choose to walk with the inmate or to put them in cuffs, depending on the situation.
Under cross-examination, he said he didn’t have any problems with Showalter cuffing the inmate; in fact, he said it’s almost “automatic.” He also didn’t have any problem with the position or hold the COs had the inmate in.
Mitchley said he later followed the COs out of the D Block and was stopped to be advised to watch for blood further down the hallway. He said he saw blood droplets in and around the holding area.
He said the inmate was bleeding from a gash on his head, and Showalter cleaned and treated it. He said he asked Showalter what happened and he related it was hard to fit two COs and an inmate through the doorway.
Mitchley was presented with a jail posting for the inmate, which notified COs he was “maladaptive” and displayed “a pattern of unmanageable behavior” that was a danger to others and a threat to the institution.
He said it’s a common posting to keep the jail’s staff aware of problematic inmates with a lock down status and any restrictions that may be in place. He said if an inmate is ordered to lock down, they must enforce the lock down.
Mitchley said he’s never known Showalter or McGroarty to mistreat inmates, and there hadn’t been any complaints made against them.
Cpl. Adam Gibson, crime unit supervisor for the Clearfield-based state police, said in June of 2017, he was contacted by the jail warden to investigate the incident.
Because the jail was located in Lawrence Township and it has a police department, he said a request had to be made to the District Attorney.
The county’s Prison Board ultimately requested for the case to be turned over to the state police to avoid any conflict of interest because the township police and jail COs have the same union.
The District Attorney – due to his own conflict – also requested for the case to be prosecuted by the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General.
Gibson said he collected still photographs and surveillance video as part of his investigation. He also conducted interviews with prison officials, COs and inmates housed in the D Block.
Showalter Testifies in His Own Defense
Showalter took the witness stand in his own defense Wednesday afternoon, telling jurors he was a sergeant whose duties were to ensure the care, custody and control of the inmates.
He said he worked the 4 p.m. – 12 a.m. shift June 7, 2017 and responded to a back-up call because an inmate had refused to lock down in his cell.
Showalter said he was aware of past issues with this inmate, resulting in his lock down status. He said he takes these matters very seriously because inmates can turn on you very quickly.
According to him, several COs responded to the back-up call and quickly formed a group to enter the D Block. He said the inmate took a couple steps toward them, asking “what the [expletive] are you all going to do?”
He said the inmate did eventually say he’d “make it easy” and put his hands behind his back. Showalter said he cuffed the left hand, but the inmate started to resist and pull down when he tried to cuff his right hand.
He said the inmate also made a fist with his right hand, and he felt it was necessary to take defensive measures to prevent anyone from being injured. He had to pull up on the inmate’s right hand to cuff it.
He said it usually takes one to three seconds to cuff a cooperative inmate; however, he said due to this inmate’s resistance and aggression, it took much longer.
To escort the inmate off the block, Showalter said they put him in the bent over position because it would allow them to better control the inmate versus if the three of them walked side by side.
“I just wanted to do my job – like any other day,” he testified. He said he learned this escort hold during training, and he’s witnessed it used in front of supervisors at the jail. “It was never corrected.”
As he and McGroarty led the inmate to a holding area, Showalter said he resisted and dropped to “dead weight,” which made it increasingly difficult to pass through doorways.
In a holding room, he saw the inmate was bleeding and asked him what happened. According to Showalter, the inmate said he cut his head when he slipped in the shower.
He cleaned the small cut, but said he didn’t see any facial injuries at this particular time. The inmate was then placed in the F Block.
Showalter said though it was possible the inmate was injured during the transport, it wasn’t because he intentionally forced him into a doorway. He also said he would never try to hurt an inmate as a form of punishment.
The defense called several current and former jail COs as character witnesses. They said both Showalter and McGroarty were non-violent, fair and honest professionals.
Closing arguments will begin at 9 a.m. Thursday in Courtroom No. 2 at the Clearfield County Courthouse. Afterward, Grine will give the jury its instructions and send them into deliberations.