Ramsey County Sheriff says corrections officer convicted last year in connection to physical treatment of inmate has resigned

February 26, 2019 10:27 PM

Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said a deputy who pleaded guilty over a year ago to a disorderly conduct charge in connection to his physical treatment of an unruly inmate at the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center in April 2016 has submitted his resignation.

Video of the incident involving 46-year-old Travis Ray Vandewiele has now been released.

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In a statement Monday, Fletcher said he has left the department.

"The events captured on video from three years ago are extremely disturbing to me and other members of the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department," the statement read in part. Last week the primary Correctional Officer involved in the 2016 incident submitted his resignation. This concluded a three-year long employment matter. 

"The video also demonstrated failed supervision and poor training. The supervisor present and all employees witnessing these actions had a duty to intervene to stop the assaultive tactics and the use of excessive force. The conduct captured on the video will not be tolerated under my watch. Misconduct will be investigated expeditiously and if personnel are found at fault, discipline will be swift and thorough. There is no excuse for mistreatment of anyone under my administration."

Court records show Vandewiele pleaded guilty to the disorderly conduct charge in January 2018 as part of a plea agreement. A fifth-degree assault charge against him in connection to the incident was dismissed. He was sentenced to one year of probation.

According to the criminal complaint, Vandewiele was working as a deputy at the detention center early on the morning of April 13, 2016 when St. Paul police officers brought in an inmate - identified as Terrell James Johnson - who was described as being unruly. The complaint states deputies who arrived to assist were told it took officers 10 minutes to get Johnson into the squad car, that he had been sprayed with a chemical agent and that he would likely spit at them.

VIDEO: Incident involving Ramsey County deputy, inmate

Vandewiele is said to have approached the squad door and asked Johnson if he intended to cooperate. Johnson said he would, but began yelling about how his knees hurt from his prior encounter with the officers.

According to the complaint, while still seated in the squad, Johnson was reported to have spit at the ground in the direction of Vandewiele's leg, who then told Johnson to step out of the car or he would drag him out. Johnson, who was handcuffed, reportedly began to get out of the squad car before falling to the ground.

Vandewiele and another deputy were reported to have grabbed him by each arm and lifted him up before he went limp and fell to the ground again.

He was then placed into a transport chair and was said to have been resisting. At one point, one of the deputies reportedly said pain compliance should be used on him if he didn't sit back in the chair.

The complaint states Vandewiele began pushing on Johnson's right jaw before using his left knee to strike him twice in the abdomen, which can be seen in the video. It goes on to say Johnson told Vandewiele not to hit him and said something about being choked. He also "called the deputies an obscene name."

It is then, the complaint states, that Vandewiele began pushing hard on Johnson's jaw/neck area and continued pushing on his head as he tried to stand. Though he was having difficulty talking, he was said to have accused the deputies of using excessive force. To which Vandewiele is said to have responded "You ain't seen excessive force yet." 

Vandewiele is said to have then struck him four times in the abdomen/chest area with a fist, which can be seen in the video. He then continued with further pain compliance, causing Johnson to reportedly plead for his life. Johnson was said to have been bent over at the waist with Vandewiele holding his head down. 

In his statement Monday, Fletcher said steps have been taken to prevent excessive use of force by deputies.

"Since taking office on January 7th, 2019, I have reviewed the training protocols and policies of the Sheriff's Department and appointed a new Detention Superintendent with professional corrections experience," the statement concluded. "Last month we added additional supervision to the jail and assigned different personnel to be responsible for training in the Detention Division in order to ensure an improved focus on jail practices. The jail sergeant present during the 2016 incident left the Sheriff's Department in March of 2017."

African-American community leaders were scheduled to hold a press conference Tuesday afternoon at the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office to denounce the incident.

"The African American Leadership Council (AALC), Saint Paul Black Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and Saint Paul Branch of the NAACP will be holding a press conference at 3:00 PM today at the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office to denounce the horrific, racist and discriminatory treatment of Brother Terrell Johnson by Ramsey County deputies," a statement from AALC president Tyrone Terrill read.

At the press conference, he questioned why it took three years to find out about the incident.

He said they are "disturbed" and "upset" by the assault.

"Race definitely played a role in it. We're very lucky Mr. Johnson wasn't killed,” said Terrill.

The Sheriff said he’s creating a Civilian Ombudsman program. It will require trained community members, like Terrill, to be present during the booking process. They would watch and give verbal help.

“Having civilian eyes on these types of activities is going to go a long way to change the culture there,” said Sheriff Bob Fletcher.

Sgt. McKinney will oversee the program and help select the civilians participating.

“Things may not always work the way you want them to,” said Sgt. Joe McKinney. “That's where a civilian, someone who’s not in uniform, someone who is not affiliated with law enforcement may come in.

He is a St. Paul native and has worked for Ramsey County Corrections for 10 years.

“I have a close connection to the individuals in my community,” he said. “A lot of people who come to jail on a daily basis, they know me by name. I either went to high school with them, I either know their parents, I either know them or I know their kids. In some cases, I know their grandkids so people know me already when they come in the door.”

He said he will also be part of the process to reassign staff to the booking area. Sheriff Fletcher announced on Tuesday, only staff who have proven de-escalation skills and cultural sensitivity while under stress will be assigned to the booking area.

“It's not going to matter what color they are, if they're having a tough time, if they're drunk and can't be reasoned with, that doesn’t mean they're going to be drug in and hurt,” said Sgt. McKinney. “That’s not what we're here for. They’re going to be taken care of the best way we can.”

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter was also expected to address the issue Tuesday afternoon.

Vandeweile had also been the co-head wrestling coach at East Ridge High School, though the district said he had resigned effective Tuesday and would not be coaching the team at the Class 3A state tournament, which begins Thursday.

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Jessica Miles & Callan Gray

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