INMATE ABUSE CASE Budd expected to take the stand
Defendant is expected to testify today.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
CLEVELAND -- The jigsaw puzzle being assembled for jurors in the Michael Budd inmate-abuse trial has a few pieces that don't quite fit.
Witnesses gave conflicting testimony Monday in federal court against Budd, who was Mahoning County Sheriff Randall A. Wellington's right-hand man until Budd was indicted six months ago. This is Budd's second trial. On March 1, a jury found him guilty of conspiracy to obstruct justice and deadlocked on the three remaining counts, which are being retried.
Budd, who held the rank of major, is charged with aiding and abetting the second beating of one inmate who was pummeled twice the same day and personally beating two other inmates. The 44-year-old Boardman man, demoted to deputy when indicted, resigned March 2.
Budd was expected to take the witness stand today and Wellington has been subpoenaed as a defense witness, said Poland attorney Sebastian Rucci. The defense attorney said he expects Budd to be a good witness.
The following, meanwhile, shows how testimony about the same alleged events differed:
USgt. Gary Wollet said he was present in a jail interview room at a table with Budd, and burglar Stephen Blazo sat opposite them in July 2000. Wollet said Budd yanked Blazo's ear on the way to the room -- enough to inflict pain and cause the inmate to walk on his tip toes. Once inside, Budd shoved a 150-pound table into the inmate, pinning him against a wall.
UBlazo said Budd pushed him down steps and dragged him up steps on the way to the interview room. Blazo said once he and Budd were seated in the room, Budd slammed his head into the table and then "ran me into the windowsill." No ear yanking was mentioned. Neither was table shoving/pinning. Also, Blazo said Wollet sat outside the room's open door and when he heard the commotion, told Budd to "cut it out."
"You're certain Sgt. Wollet was not in the room?" Rucci asked Blazo. "Yes," came the answer.
U Jeff Tinkey, a former deputy, testified that rapist Brandon Moore ignored Budd's command three or four times to sit down in a witness room at the Mahoning County Courthouse in October 2002. Budd finally forced the inmate into a chair. Budd then took Moore from the chair and slammed his head into a steel-framed window, which left a dent in the inmate's forehead. When Budd let go, he told Tinkey to hold Moore against the window. Budd then pulled up Moore's jail pants, which had slipped down. The action caused Moore to jerk toward Budd. Tinkey said he interpreted Moore's movement as a possible threat to a superior officer and took the inmate to the ground. Tinkey said Budd then walked on Moore's back, one foot then the other, "like a set of stairs."
UMoore said nothing about being forced into the witness room chair. He testified that he was seated when Budd told him to stand up and then slammed him against the window. Moore said being shoved into the window hurt the side of his face. He didn't say anything about a dent in his forehead. Moore said Budd then threw him to the ground and the impact "knocked the wind out of my stomach." Moore said Budd stepped on his back and kicked him in the ribs. The inmate said Budd then lifted him from the floor by the belly chain around his waist. (A belly chain loops through handcuffs).
"At any time did your pants fall down?" Rucci asked. "No," came the answer.
U Deputy Sam Oliver, assigned to the detective division in October 2002, testified that Moore sat down when they entered the witness room, as Budd had told him to do. Moore made a comment (unknown what) and Budd jerked Moore from his chair and threw the inmate to the ground, stepped on him, pulled him up and then slammed him into the window. Budd told Tinkey to hold Moore against the window and began to pace. Moore said "at least pull my pants up." Budd proceeded to pull Moore's pants up with such force that they jammed in his crotch, which caused him to jerk up. Moore ended up back on the ground again and Budd stepped on him again. Oliver answered "I think so" when asked if Tinkey assisted Budd in taking Moore to the ground. Oliver said Budd lifted Moore up by his jail shirt. He said Budd didn't kick Moore.
"Why didn't you arrest Major Budd?" asked Martin E. Yavorcik, Budd's lead defense attorney.
"There would have been hell to pay for that one," Oliver answered.
Although prior testimony has shown that use of force at the sheriff's department requires a report, neither Wollet, Tinkey or Oliver filled out any such reports.
Wollet said he didn't report the pulling of Blazo's ear to the sheriff until last year, four years after it allegedly happened. Tinkey, now an officer with Mill Creek MetroParks Police Department, said he filed no report.
Oliver testified "If you tell the sheriff what Mike Budd did, he tells Mike Budd -- then you're in trouble." Oliver said he told Wollet what happened in the courthouse witness room that same day. Oliver said that, on the advice of another sergeant, he told the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation what happened "when I was moved to the jail a couple years ago."
Budd's retrial began April 5 and recessed Friday. The government rested its case Monday afternoon after calling 15 witnesses and submitting via transcript the prior testimony of Austintown Police Lt. Mark Durkin, who is hospitalized.
Durkin and Austintown Police Chief Gordon Ellis testified they delivered a letter to the sheriff that named Budd as the one who ordered deputies to beat an inmate. Ellis kept no copy of the letter.
FBI Special Agent Pete Proch testified that the sheriff designated Budd -- the target of the allegation -- as the one who would provide subpoenaed documents. The FBI never received the Austintown chief's letter, Proch said in court.
During Proch's testimony, Steven M. Dettelbach, an assistant U.S. attorney, took off his suit jacket and demonstrated handcuffs, ankle cuffs and belly chains. Proch locked Dettelbach into all the restraints and the federal prosecutor showed how little mobility he had.
Testimony throughout the trial has shown that Blazo and Moore were each restrained in handcuffs, ankle cuffs and belly chains when allegedly beaten by Budd.
In all, the inmate-abuse case involves eight now-former deputies. All but Budd pleaded guilty and await sentencing.
Budd twice rejected plea deals from the government that would have meant a sentence of roughly 31/2 years in prison.
Even if acquitted on the three counts now being retried, he still faces up to 10 years in prison on the earlier conviction of conspiracy to obstruct justice.