CLEARFIELD – Two county jail corrections officers – accused of assaulting an inmate in June of 2017 – were found not guilty by a jury of seven men and five women on Thursday afternoon.
William B. McGroarty, 60, and Brian E. Showalter, 32, both of Clearfield, were found not guilty on the charges of simple assault, recklessly endangering another person and criminal conspiracy.
Deputy Attorney General Bobbi Jo C. Wagner Esq. prosecuted the case on behalf of the commonwealth. Senior Judge David Grine presided over the trial.
McGroarty was represented by defense attorney T. Brent McCune of Pittsburgh. Showalter was represented by R. Anthony Deluca, also of Pittsburgh.
According to trial testimony, an inmate refused to lock down in his cell in the “D Block” on June 7, 2017. Because he refused a CO’s orders, lights were flashed to signal for the block to lock down.
The inmate, however, continued to refuse all orders and the CO called for back-up. Several COs formed a group and entered the block, and the inmate was cuffed by Showalter.
Though the inmate claimed he voluntarily cuffed up, Showalter told jurors he pulled his right arm down and formed a fist. Because he saw this as an act of aggression, he took defensive measures.
To escort the inmate to a holding area, Showalter said they put him in a 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 Wednesday afternoon. 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 through the jail, 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.
Showalter said though it was possible the inmate was actually injured during the transport, it wasn’t because he intentionally forced him into the wall or doorways four or five times.
Deputy Warden James Mitchley was on duty (as a lieutenant) when the back-up call came across his radio. He told jurors he neither had problems with the inmate being cuffed, nor being in this hold.
He concluded his testimony saying he’s never known Showalter or McGroarty to mistreat inmates. “There’s never been a complaint made against them.”
Several current and former jail COs were called by the defense as character witnesses. They said both Showalter and McGroarty were non-violent, fair and honest professionals.
In his closing Thursday morning, McCune called the jurors’ attention to the “heart of this case.” He said the judge would give them a special instruction on the use of force in the context of the jail.
McCune said the COs could use the amount of force necessary to gain compliance from the inmate. He said they didn’t hear a single witness describe assaultive or reckless behavior by McGroarty.
“There’s nothing to it,” he said. “… They all said he didn’t do anything but his job … The commonwealth proved nothing … There was no evidence – whatsoever.”
Deluca asked jurors to hold the commonwealth to the highest burden of proof. “The evidence simply doesn’t rise to that level; it barely rises to anything.”
On the day in question, he said Showalter went to work to do one thing – his job – in a dangerous environment dealing with people who don’t follow the rules.
Deluca said if the COs didn’t enforce rules – such as lock downs – there would be mayhem, and people – both inmates and COs – would get hurt.
He said the inmate in question was posted as maladaptive with a pattern of unmanageable behavior that was a danger to others and a threat to the security of the institution.
“Are the COs just to ignore this language – like it’s not some big deal?” Deluca asked. “That’s some pretty strong language; you don’t post it for the heck of it.”
He said Showalter didn’t have to testify but wanted to tell the jurors what happened himself. “And, he told you he had to use the force necessary because he couldn’t just walk [the inmate] out of there.”
Deluca said when an inmate is compliant, the COs can shimmy their way through the narrow doorways. But he said this inmate chose to resist, drop to dead weight and make it difficult.
He said Showalter actually pulled the inmate inward to prevent injury, and when he discovered the small cut on his head, he provided first aid treatment.
“Don’t fall into the trap and believe a crime occurred because there were injuries and blood,” Deluca said. “… Brian did his job and unfortunately, someone got hurt. But it wasn’t a crime.”
In her closing, Wagner countered, saying the inmate came in with all his convictions, all his write-ups, etc., and told jurors that the COs intentionally hit his head on at least four doorways.
She said he suffered the cut to the top of his head; a cut inside his lip; and bruising on the left side of his face. Not to mention, she said it took another inmate a half-hour to clean up the blood.
Wagner said the inmate didn’t take a fighting stance, didn’t rile up other inmates and didn’t make any threats. She agreed the COs can use force to gain compliance, but it had to be within reason.