BUDD CASE Deputies say they deceived the FBI
The trial is in recess until Monday.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
CLEVELAND -- Mahoning County deputy sheriffs connected in some way to inmate beatings that are now the subject of a civil-rights trial either acknowledge they lied to the FBI, filed false reports or filed no reports.
Defense attorneys Martin E. Yavorcik and Sebastian Rucci focused on the deception Thursday in U.S. District Court. They represent ex-Deputy Sheriff Michael Budd, who is accused of aiding and abetting the second beating of inmate Tawhon Easterly and personally beating two other inmates.
Easterly was beaten twice by deputies the same day, Dec. 28, 2001, once in a gym and once in a hall as punishment for punching a female guard.
On March 1, a jury found Budd guilty of conspiracy to obstruct justice -- his link to the second Easterly beating -- and deadlocked on the three remaining counts in his indictment, which are being retried. The second trial is in recess today and will resume Monday.
Budd resigned the day after being found guilty.
On cross-examination Thursday, Yavorcik asked Ronald Denson, a retired corporal, whether he told the truth to the FBI during his first interview.
"No," Denson answered.
Denson, under direct examination, testified that he stood by and watched as deputies beat Easterly in a jail gym. Denson said that later that day he passed on an order -- via a phone call from Budd -- to have the inmate beaten again and put in the hospital.
At the time, Budd was a major; he was demoted to deputy after being indicted in October 2004.
Steven M. Dettelbach, an assistant U.S. attorney, in an attempt to rehabilitate Denson as a witness for the prosecution, asked why he initially lied to the FBI.
"I didn't think [what happened] was that serious," Denson answered. "I didn't want to get in trouble."
Denson eventually pleaded guilty to his part in the Easterly beatings and awaits sentencing. His plea agreement requires him to testify against Budd.
Testimony throughout the trial has established that sheriff's department policy requires that any use of force be documented. Also, inmates are not to be embarrassed or humiliated.
Denson filed no reports of the Easterly beating and didn't direct the deputies under him to file reports. Denson retired in 2003 after a drug test came back positive.
Retired Sgt. Bill Deluca testified that he, too, passed on a order -- via a phone call from Budd -- to have Easterly beaten for a second time.
"Did you tell the FBI Major Budd called you?" Yavorcik asked.
Deluca said he omitted that bit of information, adding he told the FBI Budd called and spoke to subordinates.
Yavorcik asked Deluca why then, during his third interview with the FBI, he said he received the call from Budd. The lawyer noted that the third interview took place after Deluca had been indicted.
Deluca acknowledged that he told the FBI during the third interview that he received the call from Budd, who wanted Easterly put in the hospital. As with Denson, Deluca filed no reports and didn't direct those under him to file reports.
"Instead of protecting Tawhon Easterly you protected your own butt," Yavorcik said to Deluca.
"I would have to answer yes," Deluca said.
Deluca, who resigned in 2002 because of problems with depression, also testified pursuant to a plea agreement.
Ronald Kaschak, who resigned as a deputy after pleading guilty to his part in the Easterly beatings, said he wrote a false report nine months later. He said Budd told him to write a report after the beatings came to light and were the focus of an investigation.
Under cross-examination by Rucci, Kaschak acknowledged that Budd didn't tell him what to write.
Budd was found guilty last month of not giving the FBI a letter that named him as the one who ordered the second beating of Easterly. Instead, the FBI was given Kaschak's false report.
John Rivera, who also resigned as a deputy after pleading guilty to his part in the Easterly beatings, testified that a report he, too, wrote nine months after the beatings wasn't truthful. The report didn't say that Easterly was taken to the hall -- a place that was out of camera range -- and beaten even though he posed no threat. The report says "reasonable force" was used on the inmate.
When questioned by Rucci, Rivera said Budd didn't tell him what to write in the report.
There was no testimony Thursday from laid-off Deputy Dave Thoresen Jr. that he filed any reports about what he witnessed. Thoresen, who was assigned to O Pod, a discipline cell range dubbed "the hole," on Dec. 28, 2001, saw deputies had Easterly face down on the ground in a hall.
Thoresen also saw deputies drag Easterly from the hall by his feet, dressed only in white boxer shorts, and put him in an O Pod cell. Thoresen said he later found Easterly naked in the cell and brought him underwear.
A deputy involved in the hall beating removed Easterly's shorts in the cell, according to court testimony.
Kristy Parker, a U.S. Department of Justice civil rights division trial attorney based in Washington, D.C., asked Thoresen if it was a typical occurrence to have an inmate arrive virtually naked.
"No," Thoresen answered.
Sgt. Gary Wollet, who testified Thursday that he saw Budd rough up burglar Stephen Blazo while he was in custody, filed no report of the event. Wollet also acknowledged that he "didn't get into specifics" when first questioned about the beating by investigators.
Wollet will be back on the stand Monday morning.