UPDATE - See end of story.
A veteran Sangamon County jail guard could face dismissal and a criminal conviction after his second charge of excessive force since 2009.
It’s not clear why Robert Redpath, 44, wasn’t charged with a crime after department brass found that he had grabbed an inmate by the face and slammed his head toward a bench in the jail booking area in September, 2009, which merited a three-day suspension from duty. Jack Campbell, chief deputy for the Sangamon County Sheriff’s office, said that he forwarded the 2009 case to the state’s attorney’s office, but no changes were filed.
Redpath is now facing misdemeanor battery charges for allegedly kicking Brandon James in his head and body while the inmate was prone on a floor inside the jail on Dec. 12. James’ injuries were serious enough that he required stitches.
The pending criminal charges could have been worse, according to Steve Beckett, a University of Illinois law professor.
Under state law, felony charges of aggravated battery are merited if someone is attacked in a public place or if someone suffers “great bodily harm.”
“There are two factors right there that I see,” Beckett said. “That stitches were required and that it happened in jail could make it an aggravated battery. … It’s obviously up to a prosecutor’s discretion.”
State’s attorney John Milhiser said that sheriff’s officials called his office the same day that James was attacked and that he viewed video of the incident and received reports as they were prepared.
“Based on the evidence I received, the appropriate charges were filed,” Milhiser said.
Under John Schmidt, Milhiser’s predecessor, a Sangamon County jail guard was charged with a felony in connection with an alleged battery of an inmate that occurred in 2006. In that case, Scott Moore faced misdemeanor battery charges as well as felony charges of official misconduct, with prosecutors alleging that Moore committed a felony because he engaged in conduct he knew was illegal while on duty.
Moore had been accused of kneeing an inmate and slapping him in the face. All charges against him were dropped in 2008 due to insufficient evidence when the inmate could not be located to testify in court. Moore had been fired in connection with the incident but was reinstated after prosecutors dropped the case.
Criminal defense attorney Dan Fultz, who represented Moore and is now representing Redpath, said that official misconduct charges aren’t appropriate for Redpath because Redpath believed he was acting in self defense when James was injured. Guards were attempting to subdue James when the injury occurred, Fultz added.
“I think the issue (with official misconduct) is ‘knowingly,’” Fultz said.
Fultz disagreed with Beckett’s analysis of the case. While some parts of the jail, such as a lobby, are public places, Fultz said, other parts, such as the secured area where the incident occurred, don’t qualify. Furthermore, Fultz said, James’ injuries were superficial and did not rise to the level of “great bodily harm.”
“I believe the case was properly charged,” Fultz said.
Redpath has been on medical leave since the incident occurred and remains off the job due to injuries, including neck and back problems, he suffered during the encounter with James, Fultz said. Campbell said that Redpath is facing discipline up to and including termination and that he will not be allowed to oversee inmates until the case is resolved.
“He has not had any contact and will not have contact with inmates until we have a disposition in this case,” Campbell said.
The standard for what constitutes a felony is considerably different when an inmate is accused of committing a battery against a guard. Under Illinois law, any battery against a guard by an inmate, regardless of whether anyone was injured, can be charged as a felony due to a guard’s status as a correctional officer.
Campbell said there is no clearcut rule specifying when prosecutors should be consulted to determine if criminal charges should be filed.
“I don’t have a rule of thumb,” Campbell said. “In this (most recent) case, it was due to an injury that required medical attention.”
UPDATE (4 p.m. on 1-13-12): Robert Redpath, the Sangamon County jail guard accused of beating an inmate, resigned from his county post on Wednesday.
“It’s a difficult job,” said Dan Fultz, Redpath’s attorney. “He was a 23-year veteran of the jail. It’s a difficult job. He was tired. Just from a quality of life standpoint, it was in his best interest to walk away.”
Contact Bruce Rushton at firstname.lastname@example.org.