ROCK HILL, S.C. -- York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant fired the jailer who blew the whistle on an officer who repeatedly struck a detainee as he was being restrained in a chair. That detainee, Joshua Grose, later died after banging his head repeatedly against a cell wall.
Grose is one of two detainees to die in the same restraint chair in the same jail – York County’s Moss Justice Center in York, S.C. But Sheriff Bryant says his staff has done nothing wrong. “I worked jail deaths as a SLED (State Law Enforcement Division) agent, and I can tell you this – I have not found any wrongdoing on any officer’s part,” said Bryant.
In May 2006, Jeff Waddell had epileptic seizures in the restraint chair, where jailers had placed him because they say he was “disruptive” on a ride back from Piedmont Medical Center.
“I think people who have medical conditions shouldn’t be in that kind of restraint,” said his mother Jeanne Waddell. “I think epilepsy is frightening for some people because they don’t understand.”
York County’s state-backed insurer paid a $930,000 settlement to Waddell’s daughter after a wrongful death lawsuit.
Last month, Joshua Grose died in the same restraint chair. He was violently mentally ill and had run over a neighbor and his own stepmother with a stolen car, killing them both.
But two days later, Grose himself died in the custody of the York County sheriff after repeatedly banging his head against a jail cell wall.
In a phone call to York County 911 recorded at 1:24 a.m., a jailer asked for Piedmont EMS to come to the Moss Justice Center jail in York because Grose was bleeding from the head. “Had a subject resist on ‘em and they had to deal with him,” the caller said.
In a three and a half hour news conference, the York County Sheriff showed hours of video of jailers struggling to control Grose as he writhed and spit at them. At one point an officer strikes Grose repeatedly in the abdomen as he resists them strapping him in the chair.
That video segment caught the attention of Mike Billioni, a jail employee whose wife works at WCNC and who said he didn’t want the incident “swept under the rug.”
“You restrain them,” said Billioni. “That’s what you’re supposed to do; but to strike an inmate – I’ve never been trained to strike an inmate.”
But when Billioni told his wife he was disturbed by the video, and she tipped the NBC Charlotte I-Team, SLED took his statement and the sheriff fired him.
When asked why Billioni was terminate, the sheriff said it was a personnel mater and would not elaborate further.
In a second call to York County 911 an hour after the first call, the jailer said Grose was not breathing: “He was giving officers a scuffle earlier and they had him in a restraint chair.”
Sheriff Bryant told reporters he has closed his internal investigation. But a separate investigation by SC SLED (State Law Enforcement Division) is ongoing. Bryant worked for SLED for nine years and continues to advise the state agency.