Joseph Guglielmo will never forget what happened to him on the night of January 15th, 2015. While in the intake area of the Montgomery County Jail in Dayton, Ohio, he was beaten so severely by a guard that he lapsed into a coma. Although he eventually emerged from the coma, he is now wheelchair bound and cognitively disabled.
Joseph’s story needs to be told. Although he will never be the same, at least he received some justice. His civil case against the jail and guards was recently settled for $5.6 million dollars. Hopefully his brave fight against the system will cause guards to think twice before resorting to excessive force and will cause enough of a financial incentive for the county to reform practices at the jail.
Compensation for victims can’t ease the pain or the memories but it can help compensate victims and often leads to reforms.
The Arrest of Joseph Guglielmo
This story begins on January 15th 2015 at a homeless shelter in Dayton. A 57 year old Air Force veteran suffering from PTSD, Joseph Guglielmo found himself temporarily staying at a shelter during the cold Ohio winter.
Joe was agitated that night resulting in the shelter staff calling police. After a brief scuffle Joe was arrested. (He ultimately pled guilty to a charge of aggravated menacing.)
Before going to jail, police took Joe to Grandview Hospital for evaluation. Later that morning he was released and taken to the Montgomery County Jail.
At some point that evening, Joe was moved to a holding cell in the jail’s “Intake Staging” area. Just before midnight, he began beating on the cell door seeking medication.
Instead of helping him, a guard viciously beat him while several others watched. (The guards denied the allegations.)
According to Joseph Guglielmo’s court complaint, Deputy Zachary Zink opened the cell door. Sergeant Matthew Snyder entered the cell followed by Deputies Zink, Matthew Sears and Brandon Ort. Officers David Cohn and Benjamin Cooper stood as lookouts outside the cell.
Sergeant Snyder proceeded to repeatedly beat Joe and throw him into the concrete wall. Snyder punched Joseph in the head, eye and abdomen with a closed fist. The other officers blocked the camera so the beating couldn’t be captured on video. Cohn and Cooper watched the beating from outside the cell. None of the deputies took any actions to intervene. (As sworn law enforcement officers, all of the deputies had a duty to intervene and stop the illegal assault.)
After the brutal beating ended, Joe was left on the floor for over an hour. Finally a nurse gave him some ice packs.
The ice packs were of little or no use. Ultimately Joseph Guglielmo lapsed into a coma. Only when he was unresponsive and unconscious did the jail summon medical assistance. By then it was too late. The nurse that initially gave him ice packs was unable to revive him.
The nurse and a medic worked on keeping Joseph alive while he was rushed to the hospital. Once there he underwent emergency brain surgery.
Several surgeries were needed to repair his skull, face and eye socket. Doctors had to drill 24 titanium screws into his skull and attach five metal plates.
Today, Joe is confined to a wheelchair. He must wear adult diapers and can’t control the left side of his body.
“I can’t give my mom or my sister a proper hug. I can’t work any longer. I’m sitting here in a diaper … All my dignity is gone. My left side is completely shut down. I have what they call brain shear. I can feel my left side but I can’t get the message to the brain to my limbs. I am completely dependent upon people to do things.”
Although now living in a nursing home in Florida, Guglielmo bravely decided to fight back. He was one of the lucky inmates able to find legal help.
Some jails have long histories of abuse. Joe says Montgomery County has a particularly violent history of inmate abuse. According to his complaint, the Montgomery County Ohio Sheriff’s Department has several recent instances of guards using unnecessary force:
“At the time of Mr. Guglielmo’s injury, the Montgomery County Jail had a pattern and practice of using excessive force against its pretrial detainees. This includes injuries to Amber Swink in 2015 when jail officers used OC spray on her while she was fully restrained in a restraint chair. This also includes Louis Aldini Jr., a military officer whom officers viciously beat and tased, and placed in a restraint chair, while he was in their custody in 2006. Jail officers also used excessive force in causing the death of Robert Andrew Richardson Sr. in 2012, whom, when ill in his cell and suffering from a medical emergency, officers allegedly pinned to the ground prone on his stomach and applied significant weight to his back to the point where he ceased breathing. In 2015, jail officers also unlawfully denied medical treatment to Jeffery Day who was forced to
hobble around the Montgomery County Jail with a broken hip for five days until he was
released and immediately went to the hospital and underwent surgery for his injuries. Excessive use of force was also used on Charles Wade in 2016 who was pepper sprayed directly in his face when he was already partially restrained in a restraint chair and pinned forward by five corrections officers.”
[After Joseph’s beating, the Montgomery County Commissioners stepped in and asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the sheriff’s department. Although the primary reason we sue jails and police departments is to secure compensation for the victims of abuse, we also file these suits to protect others from similar beatings or abuse. Without some reprocussions, neither the individual officers nor the jail have any incentive to change their behavior. Even if the officers are cleared of any criminal wrongdoing, taxpayers and elected officials often grow weary of paying for huge settlements and jury verdicts. By stepping forward and shining a light on inmate abuse, the victims of jail violence are protecting others from suffering a similar fate.]
Joseph Guglielmo filed suit in 2017. He accused the jail, sheriff and officers of violating his civil rights. The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution give everyone the right to be free from excessive force and to receive appropriate medical care while incarcerated.
Prior to the settlement, a retired sergeant at the jail, Eric Banks, testified that Snyder was upset that Joseph was making noise during roll call. He says the department tries to sweep allegations of excessive force under the rug. “That makes everybody — that makes it harder to do the profession when people are getting away with this stuff because it brings more scrutiny on people who are trying to do their job the right way.”
Banks was working the night of Guglielmo’s assault. According to a deposition transcript, “He [Sgt. Snyder] said something to the effect of, ‘After roll call, we’re going to go down there and beat that old man’s (expletive).’”
According to testimony from Officer Sears, Guglielmo was not posing a threat to Snyder:
- Q... Did you try to assist Snyder at any point?
- A. No.
- Q. Why not?
- A. I didn't feel like there was a threat that I needed to get involved in.
- Q. Tell me more about that.
- A. One, I had already had contact with [Guglielmo], so, like I said, I wasn't intimidated by him or threatened by anything that — that he was going to do towards me. Second off, I figured Snyder could handle himself if something did happen in there.
- Q. Okay.
- A. There was no need for me to cause use of force on top of Snyder's.
- Q. Okay. But your — in your training if there's an officer that's at risk of harm, you are trained to intervene and help that officer, right?
- A. If there is harm going towards that officer, yes.
- Q. So this wasn't a case where you felt there was —
- A. No.
- Q. — harm coming to Snyder?
- A. No.
- Q. He wasn't at risk of harm?
- A. Myself, no, I didn't feel like he was in threat of harm.
This incident apparently wasn’t Snyder’s first time his behavior was questioned. A private Montgomery County news site says Deputy Snyder was the subject of a two prior complaints in 2002. Both from the same deputy sheriff.
“In March or April of 2002, while in the parking lot of District 10, Deputy Jennifer Smiley alleged, Deputy Matthew Snyder said to her, "You should have seen the look on Feehan's face when I told him you had half-breed children at home."
“In June of 2002, in the parking lot of District 7, Deputy Smiley alleged, Deputy Snyder grabbed her breast. Deputy Smiley alleged that on the same evening, inside District 7, Deputy Snyder grabbed her in the vaginal area and squeezed.” [We are unaware of how those allegations were resolved or if there were any formal complaints.]
The Case Against the Deputies Moves Forward
Jails know that often there best shot of beating charges is by filing a motion to dismiss. Before a case ever sees a jury, the court must first rule whether the case can proceed. And law enforcement officers and jailers enjoy extensive immunities from prosecution. Those immunities are not absolute, however.
In May of 2019, a federal judge refused to dismiss the case on the grounds of “qualified immunity.”
Although two of the officers were dismissed from the case, the judge ruledthe case against Sgt Snyder and the other deputies could go forward.
“[A]reasonable juror could find that Sgt. Snyder's use of force was unreasonable under the totality of the circumstances…
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Guglielmo, it was. If the jury determines Sgt. Snyder used force equivalent to striking Guglielmo multiple times with a baseball bat, then Sgt. Snyder is not entitled to qualified immunity. Defendants ask the Court to take into consideration that ‘running a prison is an inordinately difficult undertaking, and that safety and order at these institutions requires the expertise of correctional officials, who must have substantial discretion to devise reasonable solutions to the problems they face.’ Even acknowledging the discretion afforded correctional officials, a reasonable person still would have known that causing multiple fractures to an unarmed pretrial detainee's face, including splintering the suborbital bone beneath his left eye beyond repair, and ultimately rendering him comatose, is a violation of his constitutional rights.”
The court also refused to let officers Zink, Sears, and Ort out of the case finding that a reasonable juror could find that they violated Joseph’s constitutional right by failing to act to prevent the use of excessive force.
After the court refused to dismiss the case, the lawsuit soon settled for $5.6 million.
An internal review round no wrongdoing by the deputies although Sgt. Snyder took a voluntary demotion to the rank of deputy.
According to an internal investigation, “Sergeant Snyder initially responded to Cell 114 to try to calm Mr. Guglielmo and prevent him from harming himself. When Mr. Guglielmo grabbed Sergeant Snyder, he gave verbal commands to stop resisting and struck Mr. Guglielmo when he continued to pull Sergeant Snyder off balance. Sergeant Snyder delivered strikes until Mr. Guglielmo released his grasp of Sergeant Snyder. Sergeant Snyder's use of force was in direct response to Mr. Guglielmo's actions.”
Officially, the report concluded that Sgt. Snyder's application of force was consistent with the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office Policy. Whether Snyder’s force was consistent with the policy or not, both the county and its insurers were sufficiently worried that a jury would conclude the force was grossly unwarranted and unjustified.
If you or a loved one suffered death or catastrophic injuries at the hands of the police, prison guards or jail staff, you may be entitled to damages. Visit our inmate abuse information page for more details. Ready to see if you have a case? CALL US at 866.836.4684 or Connect Online to learn how we can help you file a federal civil rights lawsuit.