FEDERAL COURT Opening arguments made in Budd trial
A jury has been selected and testimony is under way.
CLEVELAND -- Allegations of inmate abuse and a cover-up in the Mahoning County Sheriff's Department came before a jury Monday as the trial of Maj. Michael Budd, the sheriff's second-in-command, began in federal court.
"This is a case about a law enforcement officer who ... believed he was the law unto himself," said Kristy Parker, a civil rights attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice.
With that, federal prosecutors launched their case contending that Budd:
*Ordered Mahoning County deputy sheriffs to beat an inmate in 2001.
*Tried to cover up the incident with false reports and by withholding a key document from investigators.
*Beat two other inmates in 2000 and 2002.
"When Major Mike Budd used his leadership position at the Mahoning County Jail to fashion his own laws, he broke the laws of the United States of America, and he became a criminal," Parker said in an opening statement.
Budd's trial is expected to last a little longer than a week. The jury selected Monday consists of six men and six women who will determine whether Budd is guilty of conspiracy and depriving three inmates of their constitutional right to be free from excessive force.
Defense attorney Martin E. Yavorcik of Youngstown portrayed Budd as a valuable law enforcement officer in a county that "has had a lot of problems."
"[Sheriff Randall A. Wellington] wanted the sheriff's department run correctly for the first time in the history of Mahoning County, so ... he decided to make [Budd] the major of the department," Yavorcik said.
"He knew ... that Michael Budd showed up for work every morning at 5 a.m. and did not leave until 8. If the sheriff needed anything, Michael would do it."
Prosecution witnesses from the sheriff's department would try to paint Budd's strong leadership as overly harsh, Yavorcik told jurors.
"He has an iron fist, but his iron fist is, 'Do your job,'" Yavorcik said.
"He's not well-liked, but that wasn't his job, to be liked."
Parker said Budd's conduct in the department "toward inmates and deputies alike" went beyond unlikable. In one case, she said, Budd "screamed, yelled and swore obscenities at his junior officers." In others, he assaulted physically constrained inmates, she said.
Parker added that witnesses would describe "patented rages" in which Budd's face would redden and his arm would twitch as he lashed out violently.
Yavorcik responded that Budd has Tourette's syndrome, a nervous condition that produces physical tics as well as verbal outbursts.
"Please ... do not infer anything from that," Yavorcik said. "It's a disorder that he has. When he's testifying, if he gets nervous, he gets confused, these characteristics may come out. I just would like you to keep that in mind and that it's not a situation he can control."
The question of whether his use of force qualifies as "excessive" weighs heavily on both sides.
Under the department's code, inmates must pose a threat for officers to use any force, said Mahoning Deputy Stan Kosinski Jr., the prosecution's first witness.
Parker said none of Budd's alleged victims meets that condition.
"The evidence in this case is going to show that every single inmate that Mike Budd assaulted was fully restrained," she said.
Yavorcik said force was justified in the two situations where Budd himself acted on inmates.
In the third, where Budd is accused of ordering deputies to put suspect Tawhon Easterly, 26, "in the hospital" for punching a female guard, the deputies misunderstood the command, Yavorcik said. He said Budd actually asked why the guard did not go to the hospital and why Easterly was not sent to isolation.
Notably absent from the defense case were references to the criminal histories of the inmates Budd is accused of abusing.
U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells forbade defense attorneys last week to use details about the inmates' offenses except the names and dates of the convictions.
The ruling most seriously affects Budd's defense against the charge that he beat Brandon Moore after Moore was sentenced for rape in 2002.
Defense attorneys had planned to present evidence of Moore spitting on his victim's family at his sentencing and telling them he wished he had killed her. They also planned to show jurors a videotape of Moore laughing in the courtroom.
None of that will be allowed in court, Judge Wells said Monday, expanding on last week's order. Neither will any argument "that the actions against the [inmates] or that the defendant's liability are lessened because the detainees themselves committed certain crimes."
Judge Wells said such details threatened to inflame and prejudice jurors.
Several of Budd's family and friends traveled to Cleveland for the trial.
They filed into the courtroom wearing blue lapel ribbons that his sister, Linda M. Budd, made to "show unconditional love and support," she said.
Frank D'Amico, Budd's process server, meanwhile, has been busy delivering subpoenas, including one to the sheriff, which requires him to testify for the defense. Wellington said Monday that he has no idea what Budd's lawyers will ask.
Subpoenas were also served on former Deputy Mark Dixon and Deputies John Rivera and Raymond Hull, who, along with Deputy Ryan Strange, are under indictment and set for trial next week, charged with beating Easterly. They are expected to invoke their Fifth Amendment right to not testify.
Records show subpoenas were also delivered to Deputies Jose Sanchez, Edward Mitchell, Ben Vandenbosch, Steve Moreland, Cortland Casey, John Peace, Jenette Piper and Angela Eaddy, Detective Cherry Childers, Sgt. Aurelia Montero and nurses Lisa Porlemba and Marilyn Figgs.