Government & Politics

Jackson County seeks to have jail records sealed until FBI probe finishes

The Kansas City Star

Jackson County has asked a judge to seal all records, reports, photos and recordings pertaining to the serious beating of a prisoner at the Jackson County Detention Center, pending the outcome of an FBI investigation.

Releasing the records might jeopardize the case, assistant county counselor Ashley N. Garrett argued in her motion filed in county circuit court.

The move came in response to a request for those materials by attorney Larry Wright, who represents at least one of the former inmates injured when guards allegedly used excessive force after the inmates were already restrained. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A spokesman for Jackson County had no comment because it is a pending legal matter and because the county does not want to discuss anything pertaining to the FBI investigation.

In the court filing, the county acknowledges that Wright’s client, 35-year-old James J. Ramirez, was treated for injuries on July 4 and says only that the FBI “is presently investigating the circumstances surrounding Mr. Ramirez’s injuries.”

Previously, the county had not released the names of the four prisoners it said were physically abused by guards while restrained, nor have the guards been identified.

The document provides no details on Ramirez’s injuries, but in announcing the existence of the FBI probe last month, county officials said an inmate was hospitalized with broken ribs, a punctured lung and other injuries that day after a guard used excessive force while the unnamed inmate was handcuffed and face down on the floor.

Ramirez’s mother, Robin Jones, told The Star Wednesday that her son suffered those injuries that day and that she reported the incident to the U.S. Department of Justice shortly afterward. The FBI probe began shortly afterward, but was not announced until late last month.

Neither Jones nor her son has been contacted by the FBI, she said, but the bureau has confirmed that it is looking into several cases of alleged civil rights violations at the downtown jail.

Separately, the acting director of the county’s Department of Corrections, Joe Piccinini, has also been investigating and found evidence of at least four instances between May and July of this year in which guards appeared to have use excessive force toward prisoners.

County Executive Mike Sanders then appointed a citizens task force to study conditions at the jail. It is holding meetings weekly on Thursdays from 3 to 5 p.m. on the second floor of the Jackson County Courthouse in downtown Kansas City.

Jones said she planned to attend Thursday’s meeting and may testify about the brutal treatment she says her son was subjected to while awaiting transport to Benton County on an alleged probation violation related to his conviction of driving while intoxicated.

Ramirez could not be reached for comment Wednesday, as he was in the Jackson County jail again on another alleged probation violation. Jones feared for his safety, she said.

She said his injuries in July were sustained when a guard much larger than her son, who is 5 feet 8 inches tall and 150 pounds, kneed him in the back repeatedly.

“They shoved him down and just started making a sport of it,” she said. “And the one that broke his ribs and punctured his lung, my son was awake enough to hear one of the other guys say, ‘Stop it, stop it, you’re going to hurt him,’ and he said, ‘No, I know what I’m doing.’ 

At least four guards associated with that and other attacks are no longer employed at the jail, but officials declined to discuss the circumstances behind their terminations.

To reach Mike Hendricks, call 816-234-4738, or send email to mhendricks@kcstar.com.

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