Government & Politics

Attorney says Jackson County jail guards were slow to admit July injuries to inmate

The Jackson County Detention Center is at 1300 Cherry St. in downtown Kansas City.
The Jackson County Detention Center is at 1300 Cherry St. in downtown Kansas City. deulitt@kcstar.com

When jail guards brought James J. Ramirez to the emergency room at Truman Medical Center in the early morning hours of July 5, they said it was for treatment of the 35-year-old Kansas City man’s “altered mental status.”

It was only after hospital personnel learned the extent of his physical injuries — broken ribs, three cracked vertebrae, a collapsed lung, cuts and bruises — that those Jackson County corrections officers acknowledged the beating that caused them, according to a new court filing.

But the guards justified the rough treatment by implying that Ramirez deserved it, the document said.

Allegations in the court filing provide the most detail so far on the violent incident at the Jackson County Detention Center that set off a federal investigation of the alleged use of excessive force by county jail guards.

The FBI has given no specifics on its probe. And county officials have provided only a rough outline since announcing the existence of the FBI probe on Aug. 24.

Ramirez’s court filing, however, adds context and fills in some of the gaps in the public narrative concerning an investigation that began four days after Ramirez’s hospital visit when a nurse reported those injuries to acting corrections department director Joe Piccinini.

From his review of surveillance video recordings, Piccinini found that at least three other instances of guards physically abusing prisoners occurred at the downtown lockup between May and July of this year.

In each case, Piccinini said, the inmate was restrained at the time his injuries were inflicted by members of the Correctional Emergency Response Team, a special guard unit called when inmates act up.

Ramirez was hurt during his jail stay for allegedly violating probation on a drunken driving conviction. His mother, Robin Jones, told The Star last week that her son suffered his injuries while he lay face down, with his arms handcuffed behind his back. At least one guard kneed him repeatedly with such force, she said, that his broken ribs punctured a lung.

County officials have refused reporters’ requests for the names of the inmates and guards involved in any of the four cases, citing a need to do nothing that might hurt their own or the FBI’s investigation.

But the county did identify Ramirez in filing a motion early this month, asking a Jackson County District Court judge to block Ramirez’s attorney, Larry D. Wright, from obtaining public records pertaining to his client’s stay in the Jackson County jail in July. Wright had sought a wide range of documents and recordings while preparing to file a possible lawsuit against the county.

The county counselor’s office declined to turn over those records, citing the FBI probe.

In arguing that he is entitled to see the documents, Wright described the beating by guards, his client’s lack of adequate medical treatment and what he saw as an attempt by jail guards to excuse their behavior with a concocted story.

Ramirez, he writes, was assaulted by three or four guards shortly before 7 p.m. on July 4, suffering numerous injuries. Yet instead of receiving immediate medical treatment, he was taken back to a holding cell. It wasn’t until 4 the next morning, the court filing says, that Ramirez was taken to Truman Medical Center.

Quoting medical records he received from his client, Wright writes that jailers told Truman staff that Ramirez was “brought to the ED today from Jackson County Detention Center for altered mental status.”

They made no mention of the use of force against him until Truman staffers raised questions, then explained that Ramirez “was making a shank and attempting to assault one of the COs (corrections officers) at the prison,” again quoting from medical records.

A shank is jail slang for a sharpened object that can be used as a weapon. But Wright said signed statements by four jail guards who restrained Ramirez make no mention of a shank.

“It appears these allegations were manufactured (in) an apparent attempt to explain or justify Ramirez’s serious injuries,” Wright argued.

He also alleged that after treatment, Ramirez was returned to jail against the advice of the treating physician at Truman. Ramirez’s health was put in further danger, Wright said, when jailers later confiscated an incentive spirometer that the Truman staff gave him as he left the hospital. The device helps patients strengthen lung tissue and can prevent pneumonia.

“It was not until he was released from custody that Ramirez was able to see medical treatment to remove a large volume of blood from his lung along with continued treatment of other injuries suffered at the hands of JCDC guards,” Wright wrote.

County officials declined to comment.

Public hearing

Members of the public can voice their concerns about the Jackson County Detention Center on Thursday at the Mohart Multipurpose Center, 3200 Wayne Ave. The public hearing will be from 4:30 to 6 p.m., following the regular meeting of the Jackson County Department of Corrections Task Force, which begins at 3 p.m.

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

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