Dallas Co. Jail lieutenant assaults inmate, loses job

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by JASON WHITELY and TANYA EISERER

Bio | Email | Follow: @tanyaeiserer

WFAA

Posted on April 1, 2014 at 9:58 PM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 2 at 12:27 PM

DALLAS — A veteran sheriff’s lieutenant at the Dallas County Jail was fired for four allegations of violating policy, including the use of unnecessary force against an older inmate.

“I’ve played this back in my head a hundred times over," Lt. Jon M. McGinnis said in a hearing video recorded by the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department and obtained by News 8.

McGinnis admits he made a mistake.

“I let him make me angry, and that’s my own fault,” McGinnis said on the recording.

Though the confrontation happened last November, News 8 just got a copy of the investigative file.

The lieutenant was on the seventh floor of the west tower at the county jail when he noticed Mitchell Phillips, a 57-year-old inmate with his mattress dragged out of his cell and on the floor in the dayroom.

“I saw him with all his stuff in the dayroom like he was huddled up hiding from something, and I was thinking bullying or something like that," McGinnis told investigators in the video.

But the lieutenant charged into the inmates’ dayroom without locking the other inmates in their own cells — a violation of department policy that investigators said put McGinnis and two other employees with him in potential danger.

"Lt. McGinnis told me to 'pop' the door. I knew that meant to open the inner door. I did not open the door at first. I hesitated because it was a 24-man tank, and the inmates were not racked off,” jail employee William Coffindaffer told Internal Affairs investigators, according to the records.

Still, Coffindaffer complied with his supervisor’s order and opened the door so McGinnis, Coffindaffer and another jailer could enter.

“Lt. McGinnis told Phillips that he would not be sleeping in the dayroom and that Phillips needed to grab his property and put it in an open bunk,” Coffindaffer added.

"’You need to pick up your f***ing s**t and let's go’ in a loud tone. Phillips stated ‘I ain't picking up nothing," according to a statement from Agustin Chavez, another jail employee.

“The two stopped yelling at each other and I remember Lt. McGinnis lunged forward toward inmate Phillips and placed him in a headlock,” Coffindaffer continued.

McGinnis only released him after Phillips agreed to comply.

Phillips, a 135-pound homeless man, wanted to be moved. He said he couldn't climb to a top bunk, suffered from high blood pressure, and had permission to be in a smaller jail setting.

He has a record of mostly minor offenses.

Phillips never threatened the lieutenant, according to witness statements — he just refused his orders.

McGinnis worked for the Sheriff's Office for more than 20 years, the last six as a lieutenant.

But not long after he started, his anger got him in trouble again, records revealed. McGinnis slapped an inmate and was reprimanded for using excessive force.

Still, he kept his job.

Hearing officers weren't as lenient this time.

They fired the lieutenant for dereliction of duty — escalating the situation and entering the dayroom without locking up the other inmates first. They also voted unanimously to terminate McGinnis for using unnecessary force against Phillips.

McGinnis plans to appeal his termination. 

E-mail jwhitely@wfaa.com and teiserer@wfaa.com

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