ELMORE CO., AL (WSFA) - An Elmore County Jury found Juanice Cole not guilty of assaulting a handcuffed prisoner at Elmore County Correctional Facility in 2015.
The trial began Wednesday. The defendant took the stand and admitted to striking the prisoner Nedrick Boyd, who is serving a life sentence for attempted murder. Cole told jurors she took physical action against Boyd because he reportedly put his bodily fluids on her during a shift at Elmore County Correctional Facility.
During closing arguments Thursday, Cole's defense attorney Kenny James told jurors Cole 'probably' reacted poorly to the situation, but justified her use of physical force.
"If he did that to my wife, my daughter, or my mother, I would want a lot more than what he got that day," James told jurors.
The state denied Boyd put bodily fluids on Cole. Prosecutor Kristy Peoples told the jury the Department of Corrections veteran never created a report about the incident, instead took the issue into her own hands.
"If it really happened she knew what to do," Peoples told the jurors. "She should have called her supervisors."
The jury was shown a video of the incident, where Boyd walks into an office at the prison handcuffed. Cole motions for him to get on his knees where she hits Boyd in the face multiple times, knocking him to the floor. Cole walks away, but comes back and hits Boyd again. Boyd is seen standing in the office, leaning back and forth as if he's writhing from pain. Two other officers witness the beating but have no reaction.
The Department of Corrections fired Cole and Lt. Edmund Cooper, who was also in the office. A third officer who witnessed the incident resigned to avoid termination. The department also launched an internal investigation, terminating Cole and Cooper.
DOC issued a statement explaining the treatment of Boyd and the failure to report the incident is not in keeping with the DOC Standards of conduct.
The jurors reviewed the video of Cole and Boyd before deliberations, where Peoples asked the jury to find Cole guilty of third degree assault.
"If this happened out on the street, with an officer, this would have been handled a lot differently," Peoples told the jury.
The defense told the jury the state didn't meet the burden of proof, stating prosecutors didn't show Boyd was injured.
"Was he impaired in any way," James asked the jury. "I would submit to you absolutely not."
The jury deliberated for about a half hour before delivering a verdict. Cole was dismissed from court.
Is it ever appropriate for an officer to hit a handcuffed inmate?
Seth W. Stoughton is an Assistant Professor of Law at University of South Carolina and former officer with the Tallahassee, Florida police department.
His scholarship focuses on the regulation of police. We reached out to him for comment.
He explained that in general, a use of force isn't automatically unjustified just because a subject is in handcuffs. A restrained subject is much easier to control, but handcuffs do not guarantee that officers will be able to prevent a suspect from resisting or assaulting officers.
After viewing the video of the incident at Elmore Correctional Facility, Stoughton said the officer does appear to use excessive force.
"Even if he was refusing to obey commands, a series of open handed slaps to the face are not an appropriate response by the officer," said Stoughton. "Based on the limited information I have, both the officer's use of force and the other officers' failure to intervene appear unprofessional and unacceptable."