Sheriff suspends deputy after courthouse altercation

By Peter H. Milliken


A Mahoning County deputy sheriff, who was engaged in an Aug. 1 physical altercation with a jail inmate in a prisoner holding area in the county courthouse, has been suspended for three days without pay for failing to seek assistance from another deputy in dealing with the unruly prisoner.

Sheriff Randall A. Wellington announced his decision Monday concerning Deputy William N. Horn, who the sheriff said “did what he was trained to do” in the physical confrontation with Duniek Christian, who reached for the cell door.

“Horn felt that there was a chance that he was trying to escape, so he took him to the floor,” Wellington said.

“I felt he was at fault by not having somebody else in the room with him because Christian was directing profanity toward him” while being escorted from the courtroom to the holding area, Wellington said.

Horn has accepted the suspension and will not appeal it, Wellington added.

Herbert Hood, an expert in use of force at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy, who viewed the incident video, also concluded Horn used appropriate force.

“Horn was alone in a confined space with a known violent offender, who had already determined an escape route” and had access to potential weapons around him, Hood wrote in his report. “Inmate Christian continued to display aggressive, violent pre-attack posturing,” he added.

“Law-enforcement officers are permitted to defend against the imminent threat,” and need not wait for an actual assault, Hood wrote.

“The judgment shown by Deputy Horn was moral, ethical, legal, tactical and merciful. Deputy Horn should be commended for successfully ending what could have been a tragic situation. His use of force was reasonable and justified,” Hood concluded.

Hood noted that his report is his professional opinion and not that of OPOTA or Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.

Horn used only his hands in the altercation, in which his finger was broken, and he did not use any weapons, the sheriff said. Christian suffered a small cut on his lip, and the tape shows him laughing after the confrontation.

The sheriff said in October he had turned over to the FBI the probe of the altercation between Horn and Christian. The federal agency was to investigate possible civil-rights violations. Wellington said he has not received any results from the FBI probe.

Horn, who the county hired in May 2000, was placed on paid administrative leave and later put on desk duty in the sheriff’s records room pending the outcome of the investigation.

His suspension began Monday, and he will return to courthouse security duty after it ends, the sheriff said.

Christian, 28, said he was changing from the civilian clothing he wore for his trial back to a jail jumpsuit when Horn assaulted him and repeatedly punched him.

Horn contended he was defending himself after Christian spat on him and assaulted him.

Another deputy, Kip Danks, who is briefly seen on the video opening and closing the cell door, was exonerated and returned to courthouse security duty.

Danks closed the door before the physical altercation began because he didn’t want others to hear Christian’s profanity, the sheriff said.

County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains said the evidence of Christian spitting on Horn was neither photographed nor preserved before Horn’s clothes were cleaned; and that nobody in the sheriff’s department expressed to Gains a desire to bring additional criminal charges against Christian.

Christian was sentenced to three years in prison after the jury convicted him last summer of failure to comply with a police order.

In another case, Christian made news in 2005, when he was accused of being involved in a rolling gunbattle with Youngstown police.

He awaits retrial in that case after a jury acquitted him of charges related to shooting at police, but was unable to decide whether he was guilty of complicity with three other men in the case.

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