Russell County deputy fired after choking inmate who insulted him, sheriff says

A Russell County deputy provoked by an inmate’s cursing him outside court Friday has been fired and charged with misdemeanor assault after pinning the prisoner against a wall and choking him, said Sheriff Heath Taylor.

Deputy Stephon Lopez Parker, 48, was fired Monday after an investigation over the weekend substantiated allegations Parker pinned and choked inmate Johnathan McLendon about 11:30 a.m. Friday in a “sally port” outside the Russell County Judicial Center, where Parker and another deputy were loading 10 inmates into a van after court, Taylor said.

McLendon, 34, was being returned to jail after his initial hearing on a felony charge of first-degree theft of property. He’s being held on $5,000 bond, and Taylor has asked Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones to hold McLendon in the Lee County jail until the case is resolved, to preclude McLendon’s facing any retaliation in Russell County as a result of the incident.

McLendon had some redness and bruising on his neck afterward, but no serious injuries, the sheriff said.

Parker joined the sheriff’s office in March 2015, first serving as a corrections officer before transferring to the court detail the following September, Taylor said. He was processed through the jail Monday after his misdemeanor arrest, and then released on bond.

Parker’s initial account of what happened did not match that of other witnesses, the sheriff said, but the entire incident was captured on surveillance video, with audio of what was said. That video has been turned over to the district attorney’s office, he said.

District Attorney Ken Davis said his office will not release the video, as it’s now evidence in a pending court case.

Taylor said Parker’s reaction to being insulted not only was unacceptable, under the circumstances, but also in violation of how deputies are trained to use force to restrain suspects, when necessary.

Court precedents have established that law enforcement officers must maintain a professional demeanor during minor confrontations, and can’t react with force just because they’ve been insulted, Taylor said.

“There was some verbal altercation, and it is pretty clear from all the witnesses’ standpoint that the inmate, Mr. McLendon, called Deputy Parker at the time some obscenities,” the sheriff said. “In my opinion, and it is of the opinion of this department, the chief and our staff, that that is not a reason to put your hands on inmates.”

McLendon was handcuffed to another inmate at the time, as is standard procedure when suspects are being transported from the courthouse to the jail, Taylor said. The deputy working with Parker broke up the scuffle, he said.

“Inmates are still human beings, and they’re in the facility for something they’ve done wrong, but they still have to be treated with respect,” he said.

He has not encountered a similar issue in his nine years as sheriff, or his 32 years in law enforcement, he said: “This was out of the ordinary … but there have to be rules and regulations that we follow, and that goes for everybody.”