Four Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies and a jail nurse held a handcuffed inmate down on the ground to the point of nearly killing him in 2013, according to a federal lawsuit filed last week.
Timothy Dillon had to be resuscitated after he was restrained by deputies William Wheeler, George McMahon, Samuel Blanco and Lavonte Chastine along with nurse Elton Butler after a medical check on Aug. 22, 2013, according to the suit filed Wednesday by attorney Gary Susser.
All five deputies remain on active duty and none were reprimanded for the incident, according to the sheriff’s office and internal documents. The department did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit, but usually does not comment on pending litigation.
Dillon, on the other hand, was given additional charges of resisting an officer with violence. That case remains open.
The suit claims the “heavily sedated” Dillon, who had just suffered a gunshot wound and who suffered from mental illness, came close to death because of an alleged culture of excessive force in the sheriff’s department as well deputies who are not properly trained on how to deal with people with mental illnesses.
“You want the people who are appointed to serve and protect to know that there are people out there that need help and understanding and they are not to be met with violence,” Susser said in an interview with The Palm Beach Post on Friday. “This just has to stop. I understand it’s hard to be a law-enforcement officer, but they need better training.”
Throughout the lawsuit, Susser points out several cases where people who had mental illnesses or other ailments were harmed by deputies because of an alleged lack of training.
The “unnecessary and excessive beating” of Dillon was recorded on video cameras within the jail, but the video has no sound. According Susser, at the end of the alleged incident, one of the deputies looks up at the camera and looks “stunned,” realizing the whole thing was caught on camera. The video had not been released as of Monday morning.
The story, though, starts days before with the Dillon’s attempted suicide and arrest.
On Aug. 17, 2013, Dillon was found by his wife sitting in the master bedroom of their suburban Boynton Beach home in Bristol Lakes, drinking alcohol and pointing a gun to his head. A friend came by and was able to take the gun from him as Dillon’s children and wife left for safety.
Soon after, Dillon had another gun and was shooting bullets into the ground. For five hours, he was in a standoff with deputies until he came outside his home, near Gateway Boulevard between Jog and Hagen Ranch roads, and pointed his gun at law-enforcement officers. That’s when two officers fired at him, striking him. Reports said Dillon attempted to commit “suicide-by-cop.”
After Dillon was released from Delray Medical Center, he was booked into the Palm Beach County Jail on charges of aggravated assault with a firearm on a law-enforcement officer and shooting into a building. The case remains open, according to court records. He was additionally charged in federal court on charges stemming from the incident.
According to the court filing, Dillon was additionally prescribed the anti-anxiety drugs Valium and Ativan, which interacted poorly with other medicines he was given when he was discharged from the hospital. Susser alleges the medical staff at the jail “recklessly” prescribed the medication, causing his client to be heavily sedated.
On Aug. 22, 2013, Dillon was walked from his cell to the infirmary for a checkup with a deputy. After doing so, he was walked handcuffed back to his cell but made a wrong turn, according to the lawsuit. A deputy pointed for him to go one way, but he was confused, Susser said, because of his sedation and injuries. The two exchange words, then deputy Chastine grabbed him by the collar and arm and brought the handcuffed Dillon to the ground.
Chastine had a hand on Dillon’s neck and his knee in his back when nurse Butler grabbed Dillon’s legs and held them in place, the lawsuit said. As Dillon “was struggling to breathe,” a sergeant not named in the lawsuit placed leg restraints on the inmate. At the same time, Wheeler additionally placed a hand on Dillon’s neck and a knee on his back. Dillon continued to move, trying to breathe, according to Susser, when a fourth deputy, McMahon, came into the picture and held one shoulder down and part of his back. Lastly, Blanco also held down Dillon as he tried to move again.
The nurse noticed Dillon turned “blue,” according to the suit. Dillon had a seizure, went into a coma and was eventually resuscitated. Susser said his client has since suffered from “severe brain injuries and neurological damages.”
“He’s lucky to be alive,” Susser said in an interview with The Post.
Wheeler was previously indicted on federal charges alleging he had beaten a handcuffed inmate at the county’s West Detention Center in Belle Glade in October 2013 and then lied about the incident that was caught on camera. According to court records, a jury acquitted him of all charges in January 2016.