Wash. jailers ordered not to use 'Donkey Kick' maneuver in wake of inmate fatality

Jody Lawrence, Turner Staff writer
Spokesman Review

The "donkey kick," a controversial maneuver used in the fatal confrontation between inmate Benites Sichiro and several jailers, has been banned from use in the Spokane County Jail.

"The 'donkey kick' is no longer allowed, and the term is never to be used," said Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, adding "when you see a problem, fix it."

Former corrections Deputy John Elam, who's accused of inflicting the donkey kick, commented on the case Wednesday for the first time.

"I never kicked Mr. Sichiro and have denied that allegation since the beginning," Elam said in an e-mailed statement. "I have never used the term 'donkey kick' and to this day am still confused as to what it actually is."

However, according to a Feb. 6 report on the incident by the Washington State Patrol, one of Elam's former co-workers said Elam administered the donkey kick to Sichiro. Elam now works for the Spokane Police Department.

Knezovich revealed this week that as soon as he read about the technique in The Spokesman-Review, he called jail Capt. Jerry Brady to make sure it didn't happen again. A deputy said he used the kick - he described it as a push with his foot - to force an inmate under a jail cell bunk. It was deputies who coined the term "donkey kick."

Corrections deputies were being recertified Wednesday to handle highly combative inmates, a weeks-long training that takes place every other year. The donkey kick has never been part of that training.

"We don't have anything where there are kicks backwards," said sheriff's Sgt. R.D. Smith, who leads the training. "I've been teaching defensive tactics for 15 years, and I've never heard the term (donkey kick) or taught it."

Knezovich said if a corrections deputy used that tactic now, "since it's not authorized, the person could be disciplined."

Meanwhile, criminal investigations into Sichiro's death by the Spokane County Prosecutor's Office and the FBI remain unfinished. Prosecutors have repeatedly delayed a decision, originally expected in June, on whether to file charges against any of the jailers involved. Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker was not available for comment Wednesday and hasn't returned repeated calls regarding the case.

Sichiro, a 39-year-old Mariana Islands native, was pronounced dead Jan. 29, 2006, following three fights involving several jailers. He received multiple hits to his midsection.

The scuffles ensued after a jail nurse asked that Sichiro be moved closer to her station when she noticed he was suffering from alcohol withdrawal and was delusional. Sichiro fought violently with corrections deputies.

The Spokane medical examiner determined Sichiro died from a lacerated liver caused by a strike to his torso. The death was ruled a homicide.

The blows from fists and knees and shocks by Taser jolts were reported during the initial investigation, but the donkey kick wasn't reported until later.

Brady said that other than the kick, "everything everyone did was well within policy and procedure."

Elam said: "Though the outcome of that day was horrible, I will always maintain that I did my job in accordance with my training and experience. I've always taken responsibility for my actions and have held a high personal and professional standard for myself and the agencies I work for."

Elam graduated from the Spokane police academy last year and is working as a patrol officer.

"The Police Department still stands by its decision to hire Elam," said spokesman Cpl. Tom Lee. "Elam has always been upfront with us about what happened. He was well into the hiring process when he was involved in the scuffle with Sichiro. He told us before we found out in any other way just in case we wanted to change our mind."

Elam has been frustrated about the recurring media reports about the Sichiro case, Lee said.

The Spokesman-Review reported Dec. 28 that Sichiro's former wife had filed a $5 million claim against Spokane County. Following that article, Lee said, Elam called the prosecutor's office to find out when it would decide whether to file charges, because he's frustrated it hasn't concluded yet.

Two weeks ago, Knezovich said, Tucker told him a decision would be coming within the week. But, the sheriff said, he still hasn't heard from the prosecutor's office.

When Tucker's assistant was reached Wednesday, she said the decision was expected at the end of January. Knezovich said he's "totally in the dark" about which way Tucker is leaning.

Copyright 2007 Spokane Spokesman-Review

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