A surveillance video that failed to convince a jury she did not intentionally assault a Monroe County Sheriff’s deputy will now serve as the centerpiece of Jennifer J. Merrow’s civil suit against Sheriff Patrick O’Flynn, two deputies, and the Monroe County Jail superintendent.
The 96-second video showing what happened in the jail booking room about 7:40 p.m. on Dec. 19, 2014, starts with Merrow having trouble putting on a jacket when a female officer suddenly kicks her and bangs Merrow’s head into a wall.
The female officer tackles Merrow, and a male officer joins them on the floor, helping to restrain Merrow, and appears to hit her at least two more times.
Four more male officers enter the scene and help restrain Merrow on the floor. They put a bag over her head and handcuff her and start to take her out of the room when she seems to fall at the end of the video.
“This is really a straightforward excessive use of force,” said Anjan Ganguly, Merrow’s lawyer in the civil suit.
In an email, Merrow said: “I can’t even begin to describe what a nightmare this has been and how much it has impacted my life.”
But Sheriff’s spokesman Cpl. John Helfer said the officers’ use of force was justified by Merrow’s attempt to kick the female deputy.
“You’ve got to be really careful and when you review it because of the shadowing, but you definitely see her knee come up and kick the female deputy in front of her,” Helfer said.
“The video evidence was used to convict the defendant at court that same video was reviewed by an independent citizen review board who exonerated the deputies of any wrongdoing,” he said.
Merrow, 33, who weighed less than 120 pounds at the time of the incident in the booking room, said she suffered two black eyes, sever bruises to her head, and a severely sprained wrist that will require surgery.
Merrow pointed out in an email that “my arms and hands are up above and behind my head when she comes at me with such brute force and momentum I immediately feared for my safety.”
“I posed no threat didn’t resist or anything,” she said in an email.
According to the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office, on the day the video was recorded Merrow caused an accident near the intersection of Dewey Avenue and West Ridge Road when she rear-ended a vehicle that was waiting at a red light.
Merrow refused to give Rochester Police any information to help them arrange for her to get a ride home from the scene, according to the DA’s office. She was then taken to the Monroe County Jail for processing where she assaulted a deputy, ripping her hair out and spraining the deputy’s neck, the DA’s office said in a news release.
Merrow was convicted in November of driving while intoxicated and second-degree assault. She was sentenced to time served (about 16 hours) on the assault conviction and three years of probation on the DWI.
The assault conviction was under state Penal Law Article 120.05 (7) for intentionally injuring another person while charged with a crime in a correctional facility.
In the federal suit filed April 22, Merrow claims she was taken to the jail where she was “attacked, choked, punched, thrown to the ground, maced, and subject to extreme physical restraint.”
Merrow also claims she lost consciousness, and when she woke up naked deputies ordered her “to take various poses so that she could be photographed” with cell phones, the suit claims.
Ganguly said he has no objection to the DWI arrest or the booking procedure at the jail.
“But really the entire case comes down to one, or both, of two things. One is this video, which seems to clearly demonstrate excessive use of force; and second, the allegations regarding her being naked and such,” Ganguly said.
Merrow’s trial lawyer, Thomas A. Corletta, said he “raised a defense of justification,” although the video doesn’t seem to show her fighting back against the officers.
“Our position was that she was not, based on the video,” he said.
“Apparently the jury saw it some other way. I can’t really tell you why. It seemed fairly obvious to me, but unfortunately the jury saw it in another way,” Corletta said.
Corletta said the video was shown “ad nauseam” at trial.
“It was shown over and over and over again on two screens. It was shown during the examination of almost every witness,” he said.
“Apparently they did not see the same things that I saw on that video,” Corletta said.