Civil Rights violations lawsuit filed against Sullivan County Sheriff, others, for 2018 jail assault incident

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SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – A lawsuit filed in the United States Federal Court, Eastern District of Tennessee, claims violation of Civil Rights in regards to an October 2018 beating in the Sullivan County Jail.

In November 2018, Christopher Sabo was terminated from his position as a corrections officer after a use of force investigation at the jail.

Sabo pleaded guilty to assault in the case in January 2019. As part of the plea, court proceedings were deferred. Cabo was given 50 hours of community service, told to stay away from the victim and paid $363.50 in court costs.

PREVIOUS STORY: Former Sullivan County, Tenn. Corrections officer charged with assault

The lawsuit names Sabo, the county government of Sullivan County, Sheriff Jeff Cassidy, SCSO Captain Lee Carsell, and “JOHN and JANE DOES 1-10, employees of the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office.”

It was filed by Travis Bellew, who identifies himself as the Sullivan County inmate Sabo assaulted. The filing states that he “sustained injuries to his left eye, lower back (with left-sided sciatica), hip, and leg” as a result.

According to the court filing, “On October 29, 2018, as Plaintiff, an inmate at the Sullivan County Jail (“Jail”), was being moved to a cell by Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office (“SCSO”) Corrections Officer Christopher Sabo (“Officer Sabo”), Officer Sabo, without warning or provocation, violently knocked Plaintiff down to the floor and into a closet (and out of camera view), where Plaintiff’s head struck a mop bucket. Officer Sabo then proceeded to beat Plaintiff about the head and body with his closed fists. Officer Sabo was terminated three days later and subsequently pled guilty to assault.”

The lawsuit also claims that Sabo’s conduct “was largely the product of the violent culture created by decrepit Jail conditions – including severe overcrowding and understaffing, untrained officers, the absence of any inmate classification system to separate violent inmates from non-violent inmates, and a poorly-designed and unsafe Jail – which combine to cause corrections officers to unreasonably react violently to inmates, even when presented with no real threat.”

RELATED STORY: ‘Dangerous’ Sullivan County jail critically overcrowded, facing decertification

Bellew’s filing also claims that the defendants “knowingly expose inmates to severely overcrowded conditions” and “they have also exposed inmates… to substantial, unreasonable, and life-threatening risks of harm.”

The lawsuit states that “According to incident reports, from October 2018 to December 2018, just two months, there were 116 assaults at the Jail. Violence at the Jail is not an anomaly; it is a way of life.”

The lawsuit makes four violation of Civil Rights claims:

  1. Use of Excessive Force (Individually against Sabo)
  2. Failure to Protect Inmate in Custody (individually against the individual defendants)
  3. Monell Claim: Failure to Train and Supervise (Individually and for the Class Against Sullivan County)
  4. Monell Claim: Unsafe Jail Conditions (Individually and for the Class Against Sullivan County)

It also claims:

  1. Assault and battery (Against Sabo)
  2. False imprisonment (Against Sabo and the county)
  3. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (Against all defendants)

Plaintiff Bellew is seeking compensatory and punitive damages and costs of the suit.

You can read the full court filings below.

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