A Crawford County corrections officer was justified in punching a jail inmate so hard he fractured part of the man’s face after being splashed by milk, according to testimony in county court.
Bryan Minman went on trial Monday in the Crawford County Court of Common Pleas for allegedly assaulting Carl Gibson inside a cell at the county jail in Saegertown on July 8, 2018. Minman was a guard on duty at the jail and Gibson was an inmate at the time of the alleged incident.
Minman has been suspended by Crawford County without pay from his corrections officer job since Jan. 30 — the day charges were filed by state police. Minman first was hired as a per diem corrections employee by the county Jan. 7, 2008, and became full-time officer on July 6, 2009.
Minman, 33, of Saegertown is charged by Pennsylvania State Police with two counts each of simple assault and official oppression for the alleged assault. He's facing up to two years in jail and a $5,000 fine on each of the counts, if convicted.
The incident was sparked after Gibson threw milk out the meal slot of the cell door with the milk splashing on Minman, District Attorney Francis Schultz said in his opening statement.
In his opening statement, Ed Hatheway, Minman's defense attorney, said Gibson was a difficult inmate to deal with and that Minman was justified because Minman was provoked by Gibson spitting on him.
A surveillance video presented Monday during the trial showed Gibson throwing milk from his meal through a slot in the cell door with Minman entering the cell moments later. Minman swings but misses at Gibson, who is standing on the cell's bed. Minman then pulls Gibson off the bed onto the floor with Gibson in a seated position with his hand up and his back against a concrete wall. Minman then is seen striking Gibson on the left side of his face. Another officer then enters the cell and Gibson is handcuffed.
Gibson, 58, testified he had to have surgery to repair the broken orbital bone around his left eye and has four wires in his skull holding the bone together. Gibson also testified his sinus area on the left side of his face was damaged and that he suffers from headaches.
Gibson testified he suffers from mental health issues, including being diagnosed as bipolar. Gibson also testified he doesn't remember the incident — "except what the video shows."
During cross-examination by Hatheway, Gibson repeatedly was asked about spitting on Minman.
"I'm not a spitter," Gibson adamantly answered multiple times. "I want to see that on film please."
Jack Greenfield, deputy warden for the jail, testified that at an internal administrative jail hearing for Minman after the incident, Minman stated he entered Gibson's cell to put Gibson in restraints.
Greenfield testified Minman admitted at the internal hearing Minman had not given Gibson an opportunity to submit to handcuffs through the cell's door slot before entering.
Minman also admitted at that internal hearing Gibson wasn't trying to harm himself or anyone else, Greenfield testified.
Greenfield testified Minman acknowledged understanding the jail's use of force policy and the jail's force continuum policy, or the escalating levels of force that may be used.
Greenfield read Minman's closing comments from a transcript of that internal hearing.
"I would just like to add the use of force was justified. I should not have entered the cell. I should have contacted Lt. (William) Coleman and told him what was going on," Greenfield testified of Minman responding if there was anything to add.
Coleman was called as a defense witness for Minman.
Coleman testified he picked Minman as a booking officer for the first shift and that Minman had a good demeanor with inmates.
Coleman testified that Gibson was disruptive but that he saw Minman work with Gibson many times to get Gibson to calm down. Coleman testified that Minman also was the jail's hostage negotiation team leader because of his demeanor.
Coleman said while he was working July 8, 2018, he didn't witness the incident between Minman and Gibson, but he was made aware of it after the fact because he was in another part of the jail at the time.
Under cross-examination by Schultz, Coleman testified there were no reports of assaults by Gibson.
Minman is expected to take the stand in his own defense when the case resumes today, Hatheway told the Tribune.
Meanwhile, this summer Crawford County reached an undisclosed out-of-court settlement with Gibson who had filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the county over the incident.
The suit sought damages in excess of $75,000 as well as attorney fees and "all other relief permitted by law."
In May, the county and Gibson notified the court of mediation to try to avoid a civil trial, according to federal court records.
A notice of voluntary dismissal was filed with U.S. District Court in Erie on June 21, but no dollar amount is listed with the dismissal.
The notice only states both sides “stipulate to the dismissal with prejudice of all claims against all defendants,” meaning the case is dismissed permanently.
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.