A Benton County jail sergeant has been suspended without pay after a charge of fourth-degree assault of an inmate was filed against him Tuesday.
Sgt. Chris Seiner is accused of kicking the arm of an inmate who was on the ground and compliant after a struggle.
“The sheriff would like to emphasize that this complaint was initiated by our own staff,” said a statement from the office of Sheriff Steve Keane. “This act does not represent the professional officers of this organization.”
Seiner has said that he did not kick the female inmate, according to information from the sheriff’s office. He was kicking away food that was on the floor near her, he has maintained.
Accounts of officers who were involved in or saw the incident differ as to whether there was an assault.
Seiner had been on paid leave since an investigation was launched in January. Keane made the decision to put him on leave without pay Tuesday.
Intentional employee misconduct at the Benton County Sheriff’s Office will not be tolerated and will be aggressively investigated and prosecuted upon finding probable cause.
Sheriff Steve Keane
The sheriff will make a determination on discipline, up to termination, as the case proceeds, said jail Commander Jon Law.
Law expects Seiner to be disciplined regardless of the outcome of the case, because his demeanor during the incident did not meet professional standards, he said.
The incident involved Gabriela Espinoza, who was booked into the Benton County jail on Jan. 14 after being accused of assaulting a hospital doctor and nurse while under the influence of drugs, according to the sheriff’s office.
She had to be housed separately from other inmates and isolated for the safety of officers and herself because of her mental state, according to the sheriff’s office.
The day after she entered the jail, officers tried to sanitize her cell. She struggled with officers, who used force to restrain her, including using a Taser, according to the sheriff’s office.
Three days later, an officer who saw the incident but was not involved in the use of force reported concerns about the actions of Seiner, who was the supervisor on scene at the time.
The officer said she had seen Seiner kick the inmate on the arm as the inmate lay compliant on the floor after the initial struggle.
Two officers said the sergeant kicked the female inmate, several said they did not see the alleged kick and another said the sergeant may have been kicking away debris on the floor.
The sheriff’s office immediately started an investigation, which grew into a joint investigation between the detective divisions of the sheriff’s office and the Kennewick Police Department.
Accounts by officers varied according to where they were during the incident and their role in the incident, according to the sheriff’s office.
Two officers, including the one who initially raised the concern, reported see Seiner kick the inmate. Other officers said they did not see the alleged kick and another said that Seiner was possibly kicking food and debris out of the cell, according to the sheriff’s office.
The investigation results were sent to Benton County and Kennewick prosecutors for a review of a possible criminal charge of simple assault.
The charging documents were filed by the city. Fourth-degree assault is a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.
“Intentional employee misconduct at the Benton County Sheriff’s Office will not be tolerated and will be aggressively investigated and prosecuted upon finding probable cause,” Keane said in the statement.