Dayton, OH -- “I thought I might die,” said Amber Swink of her harrowing experience of receiving pepper spray directly to her face while in a seven-point restraint chair in the Montgomery County Jail in Dayton, Ohio.
Video footage of the torturous incident shows Swink so tightly restrained in the chair, she is hardly able to move her head; but that didn’t stop Sgt. Judith L. Sealey from entering the isolation cell and unleashing pepper-spray in the 25-year-old’s face — at near point-blank range — for seemingly no reason but sadistic pleasure.
This week, Sealey pleaded guilty to fourth-degree misdemeanor disorderly conduct and failure to desist for the act of horrific torture caught on video that took place in November of 2015. For this most repugnant act, Sealey was issued a mere $50 fine—less than the cost of a speeding ticket.
Judge Chris Martin called the insultingly low sentence “fair, just and equitable.”
What's more, this criminal torturer cop was allowed to retire last year and will keep her full taxpayer funded pension.
“Sergeant Sealey definitely made a mistake and exercised poor judgment in this incident,” Sheriff Phil Plummer told Dayton Daily News.“But don’t let this incident define her character or dedicated service throughout her career.”
When the story went viral in 2015, Swink acknowledged to the Washington Post she had, indeed been drinking heavily at home that evening when police arrested her, and was still somewhat intoxicated when cameras recorded what happened. But she doesn’t understand what brought on the senseless attack.
“It felt like somebody just crushed up fresh peppers and made me use them as face cream,” Swink told the Post. “It took my breath away. You’re fighting for air. I remember my mouth was filling with a thick slobber, like foaming up — and that was also blocking my airway.”
As the Post described, “In the four-minute clip captured by a camera in the isolation cell, Swink can be seen struggling and coughing; she appears to pass out after her face is covered with a bright orange substance.”
Officers had already coated her face with the thick, orange substance once — and despite being a bit drunk, Swink recalls the jailers laughing outside the sterile isolation cell immediately before Sgt. Sealey’s inexplicable act.
In fact, it takes quite some time for officers to even attend to Swink — and when someone finally enters the cell to douse her eyes with a cruelly sparing amount of water, the air is so thick with pepper spray, he’s forced to vacate the room more than once.
Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer agreed in September that — even though he had yet to view the surveillance footage — pepper-spraying a restrained individual violated departmental policy.
But Plummer characterized Swink’s experience as an “isolated incident.”
Recommended for You
“Thirty percent of my jail is people suffering from mental illnesses,” the sheriff told the Post by phone, unintentionally highlighting one of the most critical issues surrounding America’s prison- and police-industrial complex. “There are a lot of situations that the police officers should not be dealing with, but everybody wants to blame the police.”
Police — including officers working in jails and prisons — in the overwhelming majority of departments across the United States do not receive proper or sufficient training to manage encounters with people suffering a wide variety of mental illnesses; and the resulting lack of understanding means those individuals are often subjected to excessive force.
In 2016, Swink filed an excessive force lawsuit in U.S. District Court accusing the sheriff’s department of acting in a manner “that amounted to torture,” and alleging law enforcement attempted to hide wrongdoing by destroying evidence.
“We will definitely oppose the lawsuit,” Plummer asserted unsurprisingly at the time. “This isn’t that egregious where she’s walked away with any serious injuries. The officer she spit on should sue her.”
The case was eventually settled and Swink received a $350,000 settlement.
Describing being subjected to torture as ‘not that egregious’ simply because the victim did not sustain permanent injury shows a chilling level of callous cruelty and lack of comprehension Sealey’s actions constituted misconduct.
As the Post pointed out, a National Institute of Justice memo says pepper spray has been used by law enforcement in the U.S. since the 1980s “as a use of force option to subdue and control dangerous, combative, or violent subjects in the field. OC [oleoresin capsicum], with its ability to temporarily incapacitate subjects, has been credited with decreasing injuries among officers and arrestees by reducing the need for more severe force options.”
Swink — with arms, legs, and body restrictively strapped to a restraint chair — obviously posed no threat to jailhouse officers, however, and video proves the motivation to spray her must have been akin to unadulterated sadism.
“You cannot find any training manual that will tell you it is allowable to pepper-spray somebody who is restrained,” Kamran Loghman, a U.S. Naval Academy professor who helped develop pepper spray for law enforcement use, told the Post. “It is used to avoid confrontation or injury, so you don’t escalate to higher levels of confrontation. Pepper spray, therefore, should not be used if the subject is expressing verbal disagreement or anger.”
Swink had yelled, banged on a window, kicked at an officer, and generally caused a disturbance after being brought to the Montgomery County Jail — for which officers justifiably used pepper spray the first time, and then strapped her to the restraint chair in the isolation cell.
“Shortly thereafter,” the lawsuit stated, “Defendant Sealey went into Plaintiff Amber Swink’s cell with another can of OC spray and intentionally and maliciously sprayed Plaintiff Amber Swink’s face and body with the OC spray until she became unconscious and suffered permanent, serious, and debilitating injuries.”
Plummer told the Post Sealey had been disciplined for the misconduct — meaning she had received a write-up that would remain in her file for six months. Nothing more, and two years later, she was allowed to retire—but not before she was promoted to Captain.
Below is this most disturbing video. If you'd like to voice your concern to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office on their lack of discipline for Sealey, you can do so on their Facebook page, here.