CLEARFIELD – The trial got under way Tuesday for two county jail corrections officers who have been accused of assaulting an inmate in June of 2017.
William B. McGroarty, 60, and Brian E. Showalter, 32, both of Clearfield, are facing charges of simple assault, recklessly endangering another person and criminal conspiracy.
Deputy Attorney General Bobbi Jo C. Wagner Esq. is prosecuting the case on behalf of the commonwealth. Senior Judge David Grine is presiding over the trial.
McGroarty is being represented by defense attorney T. Brent McCune of Pittsburgh. Showalter is being represented by R. Anthony Deluca, also of Pittsburgh.
During her opening statements, Wagner told jurors the victim in this case was an inmate and he wasn’t “perfect.” She said he had a history of crime and write-ups at the jail.
But she said this didn’t make it OK for the COs to push him into doorways, causing him to suffer head and facial injuries. “What’s right is right, what’s wrong is wrong.
“What happened – this particular day – was wrong.” Wagner asked jurors to hold the COs accountable for their actions by rendering a guilty verdict at the end of the trial.
Deluca urged jurors not to fall into the commonwealth’s “trap” and believe there was a crime because the inmate had injuries. He said the jail has rules, and the COs enforce them.
In this case, he said the inmate was “maladaptive” and displayed a “pattern of unmanageable behavior.” “They were told to “keep an eye on this guy.”
“You can’t be in prison and not follow the rules,” Deluca argued. “… This isn’t a crime … they have the right to use force. They didn’t do anything wrong.”
McCune told jurors that the inmate created a problematic situation when he refused to lock down. He said the inmate knew it was prison, chose to have this encounter and the COs did their job.
The inmate took the witness stand first for the commonwealth. On the evening of June 7, 2017, he was located in the “D Block” and refused to “lock down” in his cell.
The inmate said he refused orders because he wanted to be moved out of the block and away from the group of younger kids who were “loud and rowdy.”
He said he’d put in a request to the warden, which hadn’t been granted, so he took the matter into his own hands. He said he was ordered to lock down by a CO first but didn’t.
Then, he said the CO flashed lights in the block, which signals for inmates to lock down. He continued to refuse but said he didn’t prevent any other inmates from complying with the CO’s order.
According to the inmate, several COs responded to a “back-up call” and assisted with the lock down process. He turned around and placed his hands behind his back to be cuffed.
“I didn’t want an altercation,” he testified. He said he voluntarily let Showalter put him in cuffs after which his hands were put over his head and he was bent over for transport off the block.
He said Showalter was on his left and McGroarty on his right when his head was hit off four or five doorways, as he was led through the jail.
After his transport, the inmate said he was bleeding from a cut on top of his head. He also had bruising on the left side of his face and a cut inside his lip.
He said Showalter dumped peroxide on his cut and dabbed at it with a paper towel. The next day, he was seen by the jail’s medical staff and given pain relief for headaches.
The inmate said he’d been transported within the jail before but never in that manner, and he didn’t resist or pose a threat. He also said he didn’t have any head or facial injuries earlier in the day.
Wagner asked the inmate if he’d ever said his injuries were from slipping in the shower. This, he explained, was common jail lingo to “cover up” a fight to keep those involved out of trouble.
Under cross-examination by Deluca, the inmate agreed he had a history of breaking the jail’s rules, pushing COs’ buttons and manipulating the system.
He also confirmed that he’d refused to lock down three weeks prior, and during that incident, he’d threatened to go in and beat up his cellmate.
Under cross-examination by McCune, the inmate admitted that McGroarty didn’t do anything to him and agreed he was basically just there. He also said he didn’t hear the COs conspiring.
In other testimony, jurors heard from CO Park Lauffer, who responded to the back-up call June 7, 2017. He was first in the D Block and asked the inmate what was going on.
He said the inmate replied that he wasn’t having a good day. Once other COs responded, he said the inmate was asked to cuff up, which he did.
Lauffer said the inmate was removed from the block by Showalter, McGroarty and another CO with several others following behind them.
Because of the distance between them, he didn’t have a clear view. He said the incident appeared to be under control and the “typical routine.”
Under cross-examination by Deluca, Lauffer said it was not only appropriate for the COs to cuff and have the inmate in a bent over position, but he’s also seen it done before.
He said the deputy warden – their supervisor – was present and didn’t intervene at any point during the cuffing and transport processes.
Lauffer also said that just because it appeared to him the incident was under control, doesn’t mean the COs weren’t having some sort of problem.
When he spoke with the inmate about the cut on his head June 29, 2017, Lauffer said he showed him, then commented that it was his “pay check” or “get out of jail free card,” adding he’d take either.
On Tuesday afternoon, the commonwealth’s last witness was Jacob Kavelak, a former CO at the jail. He said he and another CO were conducting routine rounds when called for back-up.
He said when the inmate was ordered to cuff up, he didn’t comply immediately but did eventually. He said during the transport, he saw the inmate hit two door frames, but he didn’t know if it was intentional.
Kavelak said there was some blood on the floor and wall toward the end of the transport, and an inmate from the work release program was asked to clean it up.
When asked, he said the inmate hit his head when three people tried to pass through a narrow doorway. He also said he’d seen other inmates transported but hadn’t seen anyone suffer injuries like this.
Under cross-examination by Deluca, Kavelak said he didn’t see anyone push or ram the inmate’s head into doorways. He thought they were stumbling to get through because they were so narrow.
The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Courtroom No. 2 at the Clearfield County Courthouse. It’s scheduled to run through Friday.