Originally published on November 1, 2014, at NationofChange.org
A former Missouri correctional officer pleaded guilty in federal court this week to violating the civil rights of an arrestee by assaulting him during a routine strip-search under color of law. Clay County Sheriff’s Deputy Eric Bottorff was caught on surveillance camera repeatedly punching the naked prisoner with a mace canister and threatening to electrocute his genitals. Deputy Bottorff was placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation of the incident and fired a month later.
On December 22, 2008, a man identified in court documents as J.C. had been arrested on a traffic warrant and transported to the Clay County Detention Center in Liberty, Missouri. While being processed by deputies, J.C. admitted to concealing illegal drugs inside his body cavities. The deputies escorted J.C. to a separate room and ordered him to undress.
Demanding J.C. to remove the illicit narcotics, Deputy Bottorff sprayed mace into the inmate’s eyes. Without provocation, Bottorff repeatedly punched J.C. in the face, back, and buttocks with the mace canister still in Bottorff’s fist. According to state records, the weight of the mace canister increased the impact of each punch to the defenseless prisoner.
After being punched at least a dozen times, J.C. eventually produced a small baggie of contraband. He also confessed to concealing more drugs inside his rectum. As Bottorff aimed his stun gun at the inmate’s genitals, J.C. begged, “Don’t tase me! Please, don’t kill me!”
“This unprovoked assault was a clear violation of this victim’s constitutional rights,” asserted Tammy Dickinson, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri. “The use of excessive force by law enforcement officers is a serious offense that strikes at the heart of constitutional protections for all citizens.”
Surveillance video and medical records corroborate reports that Bottorff caused serious bodily injury and deprived the prisoner of his constitutional right to due process. Pending an internal investigation of the incident, Bottorff was placed on administrative leave. The Clay County Sheriff’s Department fired him in January 2009.
In November 2012, a trial jury acquitted Bottorff of a state charge of felony assault. On October 29, Bottorff waived his right to a grand jury and pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs to deprivation of rights under color of law. Under the terms of his current plea deal, the prosecution has agreed to request probation for Bottorff pending a presentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office.
“This federal prosecution transcends the issue of a mere assault to address the significant constitutional issues that are raised,” stated U.S. Attorney Dickinson. “There remains a substantial federal interest in preventing law enforcement officers from using excessive force and in protecting the rights of all citizens to due process of the law under the Fourteenth Amendment.”