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Two sides – and video – tell tale of Deschutes jail altercation


A former Deschutes County Jail inmate who last month received a $105,000 settlement for a 2011 altercation talked with NewsChannel 21 Thursday about what happened. So did a jail official, who defended use of “a reasonable amount of force.”

It’s all on tape, but Bend resident Michael Cason and a jail administrator tell very different versions of what the security footage shows.

“The deputies used a reasonable amount of force to control Mr. Cason.” said sheriff’s Capt. Shane Nelson.

But to Cason, “A picture is worth a thousand words. I mean, how many times can you slip a guy’s head into the wall?”

Cason said he has a tough time talking about what happened to him the night of Sept. 16, 2011. He claimed jail staff assaulted and injured him, while the sheriff’s office denied all allegations in the lawsuit.

Cason was arrested and booked into the jail on DUII charges. On the tape, Cason can be seen sitting in the booking area of the jail, filling out paperwork.

Both the sheriff’s office and Cason agree that the inmate refused to sign medical forms.

Legal representatives of the jail sat down with NewsChannel 21 Thursday to explain what happened, though they did not let the meeting be filmed. They said the the video of the encounter shows Cason did not listen to deputies, physically resisted an escort to his cell and threw his pen at a deputy.

They also said the placement of the deputy’s hands around Cason’s neck was an accident, and the loud sounds heard on the tape are a door shutting when Cason hits it.

But Cason considers it proof that “I wasn’t handled properly.”

Asked if a jail inmate can expect to be treated in such a manner for throwing a pen at a deputy, Nelson responded: “I think it’s better to explain it this way. Mr. Cason threw a pen at a deputy, and our view of that is, that’s an aggressive behavior. That’s an assaultive action. We don’t want to see it build from there.”

Cason says he threw the pen down after staff refused to let him add that he was disabled to his medical form. He says he was respectful to deputies, and hoped by suing the county, he’d spark change.

But after seeing the video of the night Edwin Mays Jr. died of a methamphetamine overdose at the jail last December, Cason doesn’t think that’s happened.

“What I saw, what happened on the news the other day — it made me feel like nothing’s going to change,” he said, adding, “I’m just glad there’s cameras in there.”

The sheriff’s office told us it has not changed any “use of force” policies since the lawsuit.

NewsChannel 21 reported Wednesday that the county and taxpayers have paid $145,000 to two individuals in the past year to settle jail abuse and neglect lawsuits. Two other lawsuits are pending, while three claims have been dismissed over the past five years.

But Nelson said settlements don’t equal any admission of wrongdoing: “We acted appropriately in these incidents”

He also asked that the public put the issues raised by the settlements and videos into perspective.

“Last year, we had 6,664 inmates booked into our facility,” he said. “And out of all those inmates, we only had about 80 uses of force.”

“We hire good people, and we trust the people we work with,” the captain said. “They do a difficult job, and we try to provide them with the best training and the best tools for them to do that job.”

“We constantly review policy and procedure,” he added.

But Cason said he sees the issues another way: “I don’t think they (inmates) are looked at as human beings.”

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