Police Abuse

A Lawsuit Details a Horrific Night of Beatings in a Pennsylvania Jail

"If it were my client who behaved as they had, he would be on his way to prison."


A Pennsylvania college student is suing Harrisburg police and Dauphin County correctional officers following a severe and unprovoked beating behind bars.

Leticia C. Chavez-Freed, who is representing Jarrett Leaman, 24, shared a copy of the lawsuit with Reason. According to the suit, Leaman and his friends were drinking at bars around town on June 29. Leaman was arrested at the end of the night for public drunkeness, as he was "visibly intoxicated and not communicative."

He was taken into custody without incident. Once he was inside the Dauphin County Judicial Center's booking facility, however, police and guards felt the impaired prisoner was moving too slowly. The suit says he was then "pummeled" on the cement ground. Further abuse reportedly followed, including a 250-pound officer putting his knees on Leaman's neck and back for more than two minutes, an officer punching Leaman's upper body, and officers punching him while his hands were handcuffed behind his back. One officer allegedly took a picture of Leaman's injuries "as if he were photographing a prized catch."

According to the lawsuit, Leaman stayed in a state of submission and did not resist at any point. After the beating, he was reportedly outfitted with a spit mask to hide his injuries from cameras.

The suit also says the medical attention administered to Leaman was less than satisfactory. At one point, a nurse allegedly entered Leaman's cell, looked at his face without removing the spit mask, and then exited. During another observation, a nurse placed the spit mask in his mouth while observing his swollen eye.

Leaman was released before 5:30 the next morning, and he then went to a hospital. Among his confirmed injuries was a fractured orbital bone.

Leaman filed his suit last week in the U.S. Middle Pennsylvania District Court. It accuses the city, the county, the police department, the facility, and several individual officers of violating Leaman's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The suit seeks compensation for damages, plus attorney fees and other forms of relief.

"The unpunished violence at the hands of those who have an absolute duty to protect pretrial detainees is a serious crime. Federal law was broken, as was Pennsylvania state law," Chavez-Freed said in a statement. "If it were my client who behaved as they had, he would be on his way to prison."

Neither the Harrisburg Police Department nor the commissioner who oversees the Dauphin County Judicial Center Booking Facility Prison responded immediately to requests for comment.

This is the same center where 21-year-old Ty'rique Riley suffered fatal injuries earlier this month. Riley's family learned the prisoner was on life support in an intensive care unit when he missed a preliminary hearing. They had not been notified before then of his hospitalization, and they still don't know the nature of the incident that led to it. Riley died of his injuries on July 1.