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United Nations Calls For Probe Of Torture Incidents At Franklin County Jail


After Reuters published footage from 22 incidents in four U.S. jails, watchdogs at the United Nations are urging U.S. authorities to investigate criminal charges against jail officials in Ohio and three other states for torture. 

The representative from the U.N. singled out the case of Martini Smith, a pregnant woman tasered by officers after an argument about her tongue ring at the Franklin County jail in 2009.  Jason Szep, one of the authors of the report, says that after being tasered, she collapsed in her cell and miscarried five days later.

"We spoke to her just recently, she showed us the marks from the taser wound," Szep says. "And we did show that video to the U.N. experts in Geneva. When they looked at that incident, they remarked that that appeared to be crossing the line into an example of torture."

Smith was one of dozens of incidents at the Franklin County Jail reviewed by Reuters. The Franklin County Sheriff's office says they cannot comment at this time.

Szep says that it's not the use of tasers in general that's the problem here.

"If an officer or deputy is assaulted or at risk of significant physical injury, there is a role for the taser to incapacitate that person," Szep says.

He says the situation becomes problematic when the taser gets used as corporal punishment.

"Where there is concern is the way that it was used in Franklin County, which was more about, 'Obey our orders, or you will get tased,'" Szep says.

The Franklin County Prosecutor's Office says that the defendants' lawyers didn't press charges and that the U.S. Department of Justice did not recommend criminal charges. Szep says the DOJ hasn't gotten back to him.

"The decision on whether there should be a criminal investigation is, really, ultimately up to the prosecutor's office in Franklin County," Szep says.

And as far as Szep knows, the officers shown in the Ohio footage that Reuters published have not been punished.

"There's been no consequences at the Franklin County jail facilities," Szep says. "We had video of 19 of those incidents, five of those incidents involved one particular guard. That guard has been, as far as we're aware, has been promoted rather than disciplined."

That differs from other jails around the country, where guards involved in taser-related abuse have lost their jobs, and, in at least one case, faced criminal charges.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.