Palm Beach Sheriff's Office Deputy William D. Wheeler wrapped his hands around an inmate's neck and threw his head up against the walls inside the medical unit of the Palm Beach County Detention Center in Belle Glade. Wheeler had kept a nurse from seeing the inmate's medical wristband before trying to grab him by the wrist. When the inmate pulled away, Wheeler assaulted him, then pulled him up off the floor. He then thrust a knee into the man's face. The inmate was handcuffed during the assault.
On Tuesday, Wheeler, 46, was indicted by a federal grand jury for assaulting the inmate — a man identified in the indictment as J.S. The two-count indictment also says Wheeler lied about the assault, which took place in October 2013, in his report. The only reason Wheeler even filed a report was because J.S.'s face had been injured during the attack.
According to Wheeler, J.S. began to make threats and apparently began to gargle up saliva as if he was getting ready to spit on the officer. Wheeler wrote in his report that he grabbed J.S.'s jaw to keep him from spitting on him. He says J.S. also tried to dig his fingernails into Wheeler after the officer tried to grab him.
According to Wheeler's account, it was because he pulled away from being clawed that J.S. fell to the ground. His face hit the floor, Wheeler wrote, when the deputy pulled away. And the only reason he kneed J.S., Wheeler claims, was to get him to release his grip.
Unfortunately for Wheeler, the entire incident was allegedly caught on video, according to the indictment. The complaint further alleges that Wheeler's version of events is not the same as what appears in the video footage.
"The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office holds its employees to the highest standards," PBSO said in an email statement to New Times Wednesday "We are committed to preserve the public’s trust. Unfortunately sometimes an employee will make a bad decision which leads to misconduct. The misconduct of our deputy was uncovered and subsequently determined to be criminal in nature."
"Law enforcement officers and public servants are not above the law but are held to the highest standard," said U.S. Attorney Wilfredo Ferrer, in a separate statement. "They must protect the civil rights of the individuals they are sworn to protect and monitor. Those individuals who violate our civil liberties and falsify documents to conceal their criminal conduct will be held accountable within the justice system."
Wheeler is facing charges of using excessive force and filing a false a report, which carries a maximum punishment of 30 years in prison, if convicted.
"The Sheriff’s Office will remain vigilant," added the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office Media Relations Bureau Director Terri Barbera. "We ensure you that our efforts are professional and meet the highest standards our public has come to expect."