Davonta Sweate knocked out his two front teeth, he says, when a flickering light at the Jackson County Detention Center triggered a seizure during which he banged his face into his bunk.
Four days later, he alleges in a lawsuit, three guards ripped out the stitches from his oral surgery and damaged two other teeth in an altercation that began after he was placed in the same cell with the same flickering light over his objections.
The lawsuit was recently transferred to federal court in Kansas City. Sweate is seeking damages from the county and its contracted health care provider at the jail, Correct Care Solutions, as well as several current and former employees at the detention center.
Jackson County declined to comment. Correct Care Solutions did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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Sweate says his brutal treatment is part of a pattern of guard-on-prisoner abuse now being investigated by the FBI.
“They’ve been beating people’s butts down there for years,” said Sweate’s attorney, Daniel L. Allen.
Five former guards have been charged in federal court since 2015 with violating the civil rights of detainees through the use of excessive force at the county jail in downtown Kansas City. Four of those defendants are awaiting trial, while the other man is no longer in jeopardy after two mistrials.
In its motion to dismiss Sweate’s case filed last week, the county said the allegations were at best “acts of negligence” and said the facts set out do not prove there was indifference to Sweate’s medical needs.
His lawsuit is one of several filed in recent months by former detainees complaining of safety and health issues at the troubled detention center. But unlike those other cases, this one focuses on the alleged brutality of guards, which was the genesis of a now 2-year-old FBI investigation that has expanded to look at other issues.
The latest development in that probe was Monday’s surprise search for contraband within the facility by 200 law enforcement officers. The raid yielded a trove of “cellphones, shanks and dope,” a law enforcement source told The Star.
Authorities promised more details at a later time.
That same morning, criminal charges were filed against two guards who are accused of taking bribes in exchange for smuggling cellphones, drugs and cigarettes into the facility.
An inmate and an accomplice outside the jail who allegedly arranged for the transfer of contraband were also charged.
Sweate, 20, of Kansas City, is now serving a four-year sentence on burglary and theft charges at the state correctional center in St. Joseph.
He was booked into the Jackson County jail on May 28, 2015, and placed in the medical ward after telling staff he suffered from a condition that caused debilitating seizures.
According to the suit, he suffered one of those episodes and broke out his teeth while telling staff that the flickering light was making him sick.
After receiving medical treatment, he was returned on June 1 to the same cell with the flickering light. When guards refused to move him, the suit says, Sweate tried to lessen the effect of the light’s pulsations by covering the fixture with damp toilet paper.
Guards objected, and three of them forced him out of his cell and into a restraint chair, Sweate says, allegedly hitting him in the face multiple times. His stitches broke open and were not replaced, the lawsuit says.
Sweate also says his shoulder was injured two months later when guards allegedly dragged him across the floor while he was unconscious and in the midst of a seizure.
Both incidents occurred during the summer the FBI launched its investigation of guards using excessive force.
Sweate’s lawsuit says detention center managers were aware of the problem well before then.
He says that a former corrections officer, who his attorney says is a former guards union official, told the FBI in a sworn statement that he’d notified his superiors that some guards “were out of control and that beatings and abuse were an ongoing occurrence, in spite of any published directive or procedures to the contrary.”