Man sues Marion County law enforcement; lawyers say 2019 arrest left him paralyzed

Jail employees disciplined after inmate’s escape

Problems at the Marion County Jail have led to disciplinary action, including firings, demotions, and suspensions. Russ McQuaid reports.

MARION COUNTY, Ind. — A lawsuit has been filed in U.S. District Court on behalf of an Indianapolis man who said he became quadriplegic while in the custody of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.

The lawsuit stems from the September 8, 2019 arrest of Travis Shinneman. He was arrested for disorderly conduct and taken to the jail in a transport van.

Shinneman’s lawyers say he was able to get into the van on his own but was unable to support his own body weight upon arrival at the Marion County Jail. According to the attorneys, Shinneman was thrown or placed into the van head first, unsecured, with his wrists handcuffed behind his back. When they arrived to the jail and opened the doors of the van, the lawyers say Shinneman was found lying face down on the floorboard with his head at the tailgate doors. He was then forcibly removed before putting in a wheelchair as he went to the intake room for processing.

Attorneys claim surveillance video from the intake room show Shinneman was incapable of sitting, standing upright and supporting his own weight. He’s seen on camera falling to the ground after deputies forced him out of the wheelchair to pat him down.

Disclaimer: Travis Shinneman’s lawyers have provided the following video, which they say depicts their client while in custody at the Marion County Jail.

An ambulance took Shinneman to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a fractured and dislocated spinal cord. The diagnosis meant Shinneman was paralyzed from the neck down.

Attorneys say Shinneman, now 49, lives in a nursing home and needs around the clock care.

His lawyers, Clay and Jennifer Culotta, are seeking both accountability among public and law enforcement officials as well as damages.

They say the Marion County Sheriff transport van did not include safety restraints or a camera to monitor the transport. Shinneman was handcuffed behind his back and left alone in the vehicle, unable to protect or brace himself during transport.

Upon his arrival at the jail, lawyers say security camera video shows some Marion County Jail employees manhandled him, while others simply ignored him. They also say a trained onsite nurse only looked at Shinneman from a distance but never once stepped in to assess his well-being or safety prior to refusing to accept him due to her opinion that he was intoxicated.

“This is a disturbing case because it could literally happen to anyone,” said attorney Jennifer Culotta. “It is shocking that in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death, that the Marion County Jail transport vans were not equipped with safety belts, cameras to monitor transports, or security measures to ensure that transports are not thrown around the back of a transport van like a pinball in a machine. It shocks the conscience to watch the video and see the deputies mocking and manhandling Travis when we know at that time, his neck was already broken.” 

The lawsuit names the Indianapolis-Marion County City Council, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Mayor Joe Hogsett, City-Counsel representatives, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police officers, and individual Marion County Jail deputies and employees.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office has released a statement in response to the lawsuit.

Rule 3.6 of the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys prohibits extrajudicial statements that may materially prejudice an adjudicative proceeding.  Thus, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office has a longstanding practice of not commenting on pending litigation.  However, the public is reminded that there are two sides to every story, and that ultimately it will be a judge and jury that will likely resolve the litigation.  The Marion County Sheriff’s Office believes that no proper public purpose can be served by attempts to litigate the lawsuit in the media.  The Marion County Sheriff’s Office has no further comment on this matter at this time.

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