Lawsuit: 70-year-old inmate restrained in chair for hours at Hamilton County jail

Lawsuit: 70-year-old inmate restrained in chair for hours at Hamilton County jail
Paul Koren (Source: Hamilton County Sheriff's Office)

CINCINNATI (FOX19) - A new excessive force lawsuit alleges a 70-year-old man was restrained for hours at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office after his arrest on drug-related charges because he would not submit to a strip search.

Several corrections officers at the Hamilton County Justice Center picked Paul Koren of Cleves up and “slammed him into a restraint chair where he was bound at the wrist and ankles” in January 2019, federal court records show.

He was concerned that he was being taken to the same facility as the men who had just broken into his home, attacked him and were subsequently arrested.

Koren “posed no threat” to the corrections officers and didn’t “physically resist in any way,” according to the lawsuit.

A nurse said in a report that an officer told her Koren was “placed in the restraint chair because he refuse(d) a strip search for drugs,” the lawsuit states.

She consented to Koren going to the jail’s psychiatric area, where he remained strapped in the chair for nearly five hours, according to court records.

“Mr. Koren was not allowed to use the restroom during any of his time in the restraint chair (and) was finally forced to urinate upon himself,” the lawsuit reads.

Other nurses and a paramedic who saw Koren during his time in the restraint chair described him as being responsive to questions and “pleasant and relaxed,” the lawsuit says.

“Mr. Koren posed no threat to himself or anyone else, nor did he physically resist, in any way,” the suit reads.

“Regardless, corrections officers threw him in the restraint chair and left him to suffer, immobile and bound, for hours. Mr. Koren was made to suffer this continuing torment even though it was noted repeatedly that he was ‘pleasant’ and ‘relaxed’ while in the chair. Mr. Koren’s requests to be released were ignored.

“Even his basic need to use the bathroom went unheeded and he was finally forced to bear the indignity of urinating on himself. Sadly, all the foregoing was in keeping with the policies or customs of the Hamilton County Sheriff and NaphCare, the private medical provider at the jail. Mr. Koren now alleges violations of his civil rights....”

Wearing urine-stained clothes, Koren was finally wheeled back to the intake area and taken out of the chair.. He was never strip-searched.

Koren made a brief court appearance the following day and was released from the jail after posting $1,500, or 10 percent of a $15,000 bond.

He ultimately pleaded guilty and was convicted of an amended and reduced charge of trafficking in marijuana, which had no mandatory prison time, court records show.

He was sentenced in June 2019 to community control and ordered to complete a mental health program, obey the marijuana law and pay court costs.

Other charges were dropped: Aggravated trafficking, possession of marijuana, cultivation of marijuana and possession of drugs, court records show.

His probation ended in July 2020.

The lawsuit names now-former Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil; his former second-in-command, Chief Deputy Mark Schoonover; several corrections officers, jail sergeants and 15 yet-to-be-named employees at the sheriff’s office as well as ones with NaphCare, which was contracted to provide medical and psychiatric services to inmates at the jail; two NaphCare nurses and a NaphCare paramedic. NaphCare itself also is named as a defendant.

It seeks damages and requests a jury trial.

An internal investigation found that the use of the restraint chair was proper under the agency’s guidelines, according to our news partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The lawsuit says it was sheriff’s department policy to use restraint chairs “liberally, punitively and in ways which served no reasonable interest.”

We tried to view video of the incident for ourselves but, according to Koren’s lawyer, they do not have any because the sheriff’s office “has advised they no longer possess footage of Mr. Koren in the restraint chair.”

We sent a spokeswoman for the Hamilton County Commission a copy of the lawsuit and requested comment.

Bridget Doherty said she was unable to comment about ongoing litigation and the county has not been served with this lawsuit yet “so we are not sure of the exact allegations.”

“But what I can tell you is that allegations of civil rights violations are taken extremely serious. Protecting the rights, safety and wellbeing of our employees and members of the public is at the heart of what we do in Hamilton County.”

FOX19 NOW has requested comment from the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, where Sheriff Jim Neil’s term has ended and the jail’s former boss, Charmaine McGuffey was recently sworn in as sheriff.

We will update this story when we hear back.

Just before McGuffey took office, she settled a lawsuit she filed against the sheriff’s office two years ago as a result of her 2017 termination.

McGuffey worked for the sheriff’s department since 1983 and earned the rank of major in charge of the county jail by the time she was fired.

She sued in 2018, claiming her termination was due to her being a whistleblower exposing excessive use of force by the sheriff’s deputies and corrections officers. She also has said some within the department didn’t like the fact she was an openly gay woman.

According to the settlement agreement, outgoing Sheriff Jim Neil and the county, do not admit to her allegations.

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