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Former RPSO corrections deputy heads to trial on malfeasance charge for excessive force complaint

Trial will continue on Friday, Oct. 29 before Judge Chris Hazel
Published: Oct. 26, 2021 at 6:01 PM CDT
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - A bench trial is underway in Rapides Parish for a former Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office corrections deputy charged with malfeasance in office.

Jeremy Morrow is accused of using excessive force on DC 1 inmate, Damian Francisco, in March 2019 during a search for an alleged shank in two jail cells. Francisco testified at the trial on Tuesday.

Assistant Attorney General Joseph Lebeau told Judge Chris Hazel, who is presiding, that the Constitution protects inmates like Francisco. He also said video surveillance would show the incident in which Francisco was knocked to the ground by Morrow during the search.

“You will see clearly Mr. Morrow did batter Mr. Francisco,” said Lebeau.

Morrow’s attorney, George Higgins, said evidence would prove that Morrow’s actions were justified.

“I have made a living in jails,” said Higgins. “I don’t know of a tougher job than being a corrections officer...they always have their guard up...clearly the action Mr. Morrow took was justified.”

Witnesses on the first day of the trial included several corrections deputies who were present when the inmates were being removed from their cells to begin the search for the alleged shank.

One corrections officer testified that Francisco cursed at them while they were trying to remove him from the cell so they could search it. He also testified that Francisco didn’t want to be handcuffed and removed.

“Just because an offender is handcuffed doesn’t mean he’s secure,” said Lt. Benson Thompson of the risks corrections officers undertake while doing searches.

A lieutenant with the internal affairs division testified and told the court about video surveillance she obtained following the incident. Lt. Christina Taylor told the court that video showed Francisco being moved from his cell into the hallway area and placed against a wall. She also said Morrow was wearing a body camera, but it was not turned on.

Taylor told the court that internal affairs got involved in the case when Francisco filed a complaint after the incident. As the video was playing for Judge Hazel, she described to him what was happening, saying Morrow pushed Francisco to the ground while he was against the wall. She said she also interviewed Francisco and took photos of his injuries, which she said included a busted lip and cracked tooth. The case was then handed over to criminal investigations.

Later, Francisco was called to testify. Both the prosecution and defense went over his list of prior charges and convictions, including those in other parishes. Charges included convictions for second-degree battery and simple robbery. A conviction of introducing contraband into the jail was also discussed.

Francisco was adamant that he complied with Morrow’s orders, admitted that he didn’t want to be cuffed and testified that he didn’t curse out officers.

“Sergeant Morrow grabbed me and threw me against the wall,” said Francisco. “I was like, ‘I’m on the wall.’”

Francisco testified that he never threatened an officer in the jail. He also said he’s never been in an altercation with a guard before. Francisco told the court he never had a shank and one wasn’t found in his cell. He believes that Morrow pushed him down when he turned around at one point to tell him that he was complying.

“He was telling me to get on the wall. Stop resisting,” said Francisco. Francisco said he told Morrow he wasn’t resisting, “What do you want me to do? I’m on the wall.” He said that’s when he was knocked down.

Higgins believes the video shows Morrow trying to break the fall before Francisco hit the ground.

“He slammed me,” said Francisco.

Testimony will continue on Friday.

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