Mon County deputy federally charged with using excessive force, covering it up
WASHINGTON (WDTV) - A federal court unsealed a two-count indictment Thursday against a Monongalia County deputy.
The indictment is against Deputy Sheriff Lance Kuretza, 38, for allegedly depriving an individual of his civil rights by using excessive force and for writing a false report to cover it up, officials said.
According to the indictment, on Jan. 20, 2018, while on duty, Deputy Kuretza subjected the victim to excessive force by punching and elbowing him in the face and, after the victim was handcuffed, spraying him with pepper spray and striking him.
Officials said the offense resulted in bodily injury and included the use of a dangerous weapon. The indictment further alleges that Deputy Kuretza falsified his use of force report by claiming he used pepper spray before the victim was handcuffed, and by omitting any documentation of post-handcuffing force.
Kuretza was arrested early Thursday morning and is scheduled to make his initial court appearance later on Thursday.
In the lawsuit that names Kuretza and six other unnamed deputies, it is alleged Kuretza had a history of making false arrests and using excessive force.
The county commission and sheriff’s office were aware of this history but still hired him, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges the plaintiff, Quintin Graciano, of South Carolina, was asleep in his room at a Morgantown hotel when Kuretza burst into the room and demanded he get up. Kuretza and other officers were reportedly called to the hotel to deal with a disturbance call with rowdy guests in a room adjacent to Graciano’s room.
The lawsuit further alleges Kuretza was the only person arrested. Graciano allegedly told Kuretza to stop, but Kuretza allegedly began battering, shaking and striking him on the feet before hurling him onto the floor where he “savagely and repeatedly beat and batter the half-asleep” victim.
Other deputies joined in on the beating and handcuffed Graciano, the lawsuit alleges. It also says Graciano was charged with obstructing and battery on an officer.
The lawsuit claims Graciano suffered physical, emotional and monetary damage as a result of this incident.
In a criminal complaint written by Kuretza, deputies were responding to a fight involving multiple men when he found Graciano lying on a bed in one of the hotel rooms. Graciano allegedly refused to get up after Kuretza announced himself several times.
The criminal complaint says Graciano pushed away Kuretza when he tried to shake him awake, and Graciano punched him after he woke up.
Graciano rolled out of bed and a “physical confrontation ensued” where he continued to punch and kick Kuretza while he was trying to arrest him, the criminal complaint says. Even when he was handcuffed, it says Graciano continued to kick, stomp his feet, spit and use his body weigh to “smash deputies into walls and resist us.”
The report also says Graciano was searched and had a bag of marijuana in his back pocket.
If convicted, officials said Kuretza faces up to 10 years in prison for the civil rights violation and up to 20 years in prison for falsifying the report.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld for the Northern District of West Virginia and Special Agent in Charge Michael D. Nordwall of the FBI Pittsburgh Field Office announced the indictment.
The FBI is investigating the case, with the support of the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Office.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah E. Wagner for the Northern District of West Virginia and Trial Attorney Kyle Boynton of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section are prosecuting the case.
Deputy Kuretza has been placed on administrative leave as of Thursday, according to the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Office.
An indictment is merely an allegation of criminal conduct, and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
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