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FEDERAL COURT Inmate abuse case continues Jury selection to begin Monday in trial of last defendant



Published: Sat, February 26, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Mark Dixon's co-defendants are expected to be called as witnesses.

YOUNGSTOWN -- Three years ago, jail inmate Tawhon Easterly took his lumps -- twice -- and kept his mouth shut.

Whether those lumps were justified is at the heart of a civil rights trial in Cleveland federal court. The government alleges that Mark Dixon, a corrections officer at the Mahoning County jail, on two separate occasions in December 2001 used excessive force on Easterly to punish, not control him.

U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells scheduled jury selection to begin at 8 a.m. Monday for Dixon, the lone remaining holdout in a case that began with six defendants indicted in July 2004. The 32-year-old Youngstown man is no longer a deputy; he was removed from the sheriff's department payroll in March 2003, when indicted on an unrelated charge of sexual battery that is still pending.

Others

Dixon's co-defendants, deputies Raymond Hull III, John Rivera and Ryan Strange, avoided trial by pleading guilty last week to their part in the Easterly beating. Retired jail supervisors Bill Deluca and Ronald Denson pleaded guilty in November 2004.

The prosecution is expected to call Dixon's co-defendants as witnesses, as well as Easterly. Easterly, 26, has been incarcerated at the Trumbull Correctional Institution since July 2002, serving six years for involuntary manslaughter.

Last week, Judge Wells denied Dixon's request to delay the trial because of a witness's health and also denied his desire to replace his Cleveland lawyer, Henry F. DeBaggis. The lawyer had urged his client to accept a plea deal.

Dixon's trial may be slightly delayed until a jury in Judge Wells' court decides the guilt or innocence of Deputy Michael Budd, the one-time major who the government said gave the order to beat Easterly for a second time after he punched a female guard in December 2001. Budd, 44, of Boardman, is also accused of covering up his alleged involvement in the Easterly beating and personally roughing up two other inmates.

Jurors in Budd's case are scheduled to resume deliberations Monday.

The charges

Dixon faces these charges:

UCount One: Conspiracy to deprive Easterly of his civil right to be free from the use of excessive force amounting to punishment in retaliation for the inmate punching a female guard.

UCount Two: Aiding and abetting and causing the beating of Easterly in the fourth-floor gym at the jail.

UCount Three: Aiding and abetting and causing the beating of Easterly in a secluded corridor at the jail. This second beating was ordered by Budd, the government said.

Easterly did not report the beatings and corrections officers made no reports of the events, the government said. The investigation began in late summer 2002, when then-Deputy Ronald J. Kaschak applied for a patrolman's position with Austintown police and disclosed that he had, at Budd's direction, used excessive force on Easterly.

Kaschak was not indicted; he resigned and pleaded guilty in April 2004 and agreed to cooperate with the prosecution.

The case was investigated by the FBI and Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation.

Briefs

DeBaggis and Steven M. Dettelbach, an assistant U.S. attorney, described their versions of the case in trial briefs filed with the court.

Dettelbach said that, on Dec. 28, 2001, Denson, then a corporal, instructed deputies to bring Easterly from his cell back to the gym after the female guard identified him as the one who struck her during a fight between inmates in the gym. The purpose was to beat Easterly, which Hull, Dixon and Strange proceeded to do, the prosecutor said.

Later that same day, allegedly based on directions from Budd, Denson and Deluca, then a sergeant, ordered that Easterly be beaten again and put in the hospital. This time, Kaschak, Hull, Rivera and Dixon removed Easterly from his cell, beat him in a secluded hallway and then dragged him naked back to his cell, the government said.

The defense, in its trial brief, denies that excessive force was used on Easterly and contends Dixon acted appropriately under the circumstances. The circumstances are not mentioned.

Dixon's defense lawyer also incorporated in his trial brief arguments made in Budd's trial brief. Budd's defense lawyers said a deputy who deals with a violent criminal would handle him with greater force than a nonviolent offender.

Also, Budd's defense team said there was no order to put Easterly in the hospital and, in fact, the inmate did not need hospital treatment. Easterly was stripped naked not as punishment but because he was placed in isolation, where being naked is the policy, Budd's lawyers said.




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