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Two Versions of a Death in Custody

BENTON, Ark. (CN) - Arkansas police beat and Tasered a man to death in jail after he suffered a heart attack, his mother claims in court - but the sheriff claims the man swallowed 2 grams of meth before he was jailed on a DUI charge.

The Saline County Sheriff's Office told several Arkansas news outlets that the late Casey Babovec, who was arrested on a DUI charge, told another inmate he had swallowed 2 grams of meth before he was arrested.

"Saline County Sheriff's Office Lt. Scottie Courtney said 2 grams of crystal meth is a 'huge amount' and that he was sure it was at least a contributing factor in Babovec's death," the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported in its online edition the day after Babovec died.

Robin Babovec sued Saline County, its Sheriff Bruce Pennington and 10 named deputies on behalf of her son, who died in custody on April 13, 2011. He was 30.

In her lawsuit in Saline County Court, Robin Babovec claims that after beating and Tasering him, deputies pulled his unconscious body to a holding cell, "hitting him again and leaving him alone, unconscious, in severe need of emergency care."

"(D)uring his detention Casey Babovec requested emergency medical treatment on numerous occasions, claimed to be having a heart attack and displayed classic symptoms of a heart attack which demonstrated an objectively serious medical need for emergency medical care," his mother says in the lawsuit.

She claims that her son was not only denied medical care "but also threatened by the deputies with punishment if he continued to request such care."

She claims: "That Casey Babovec was involved in a physical confrontation with another detainee. That when the deputies removed Casey Babovec from his cell, they physically punished him for his constant requests for emergency medical care under the guise of subduing him for 'resisting.' ...

"That while Casey Babovec was restrained face-down on the floor, the deputies acted collectively and with malice to severely beat him, illegally Taser him, sit on him, suffocate him, severely injure him, render him unconscious, and ultimately kill him. ... The deputies' actions constituted excessive force and the imposition of cruel and unusual punishment."

After he was injured or dead, deputies "purposely segregated Casey Babovec from the general population of the jail by pulling his unconscious body to a separate holding cell, hitting him again and leaving him alone, unconscious, in severe need of emergency care," according to the lawsuit.

Babovec's mother claims that Saline Detention Center officials have a history of beating inmates, that beatings are "part of the official custom and practice at the Saline County Detention Center." And she claims the deputies conspired to misrepresent the circumstances of her son's death.

She seeks compensatory and punitive damages for constitutional and civil rights violations, excessive force and wrongful death.

She is represented by James F. Swindoll, of Little Rock.

Sheriff Pennington told arkansasonline.com, the Internet edition of the Press-Democrat, that Babovec was arrested at about 1 p.m., began "acting strangely" at around 5 p.m. and hit another inmate.

"'Detention officers went in broke up the altercation and removed Babovec and began to subdue him,'" Pennington said in a statement, according to the Press-Democrat story of April 14, 2011. "'After they subdued him, and placed him in another holding cell, alone, he became unresponsive.'

"Babovec was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead," according to the newspaper.

In a video posted on Liveleak.com, allegedly of Babovec's collapse or death, jail deputies appear to be restraining and tending to him, but not beating him.

The Democrat-Gazette reported in its April 14 story that Sheriff's Lt. Scottie Courtney told it: "There are things worse than jail time for getting caught with drugs. I'm not trying to make light of this. But you do not want to eat drugs. That's just not smart."

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