A federal lawsuit filed by a former York County jail worker claiming he was fired for speaking out when an inmate died in custody has been changed to drop a whistleblower claim, court documents show. It could go to trial by February.
At the same time, a wrongful death lawsuit continues against the sheriff’s office, alleging inmate Joshua Grose was suffering from mental illness when put into a restraint chair. Grose, a convicted felon, was charged with killing his stepmother and a neighbor by running them over with a car. The York County coroner ruled his death a suicide, caused by Grose’s repeatedly hitting his head against a cell wall.
Prosecutors found no criminal wrongdoing by jailers, saying they used reasonable and appropriate force to subdue Grose after he injured himself and became violent.
In the jailer lawsuit, Michael Billioni, fired in 2013 after inmate Grose died in a restraint chair, claims in an amended lawsuit that he lost his job because he spoke about the use of the chair and the way another officer had subdued Grose with a stun gun. Billioni, a corporal in the York County jail at the time, expressed frustrations after watching the video of the incident, court documents show, including to his wife, who worked for a Charlotte television station. Billioni also claims that the chair was used to punish inmates, especially those suffering from mental illness.
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Bryant, who leaves office in January after choosing not to seek re-election after 20 years as sheriff, has denied Billioni’s claims – including all allegations about why the chair was used. In court documents, lawyers for Bryant ask that the lawsuit be dismissed.
A judge ordered the two sides to go through mediation by December. If the case can’t be worked out, a trial could happen as early as Feb. 13, a scheduling court order shows.
Late last year, Grose’s mother filed a wrongful death and negligence lawsuit against the sheriff’s office and the jailers working that night. In that lawsuit, filed in York County civil court, Karen Petranovich claims that Grose was put in the restraint chair that she says is dubbed by some as the “Devil’s Chair” because jailers did not want to be bothered by Grose’s antics.
Lawyers for the sheriff’s office and the employees named in the suit deny the wrongful death claims, stating in court documents that Grose’s own actions brought about the use of the chair and his death. Grose had his head in the cell toilet, the sheriff’s office said in responding to the lawsuit, then was combative with officers before he was stunned, subdued, and placed in the chair.
Sheriff’s office lawyers also have asked that the wrongful death lawsuit be dismissed, but court documents filed this month show that mediation has also been ordered in that case.