Lawsuit: DeKalb teen needed surgery after ‘excessive’ force at jail

The DeKalb County jail was the site of a contentious encounter between a teen and jailers on Feb. 3, 2015, which the former inmate now claims amounted to excessive force against him.
The DeKalb County jail was the site of a contentious encounter between a teen and jailers on Feb. 3, 2015, which the former inmate now claims amounted to excessive force against him.

After a dispute over a broken toilet, a mentally-distressed DeKalb County teen suffered excessive force by jail staff and required surgery, a federal lawsuit alleges.

Stephen Lorezen Harris of Stone Mountain was pepper-sprayed and “tased” on Feb. 3, 2015, while protesting after days of problems with the cell toilet, the suit says. He had to be taken to Grady Memorial Hospital to have the Taser prong surgically removed from his leg, and could hardly walk for days, according to the filing.

The civil rights legal action, filed in U.S. District Court last week, asks for a jury to determine how much Harris, now 20, is owed.

The suit is against six jailers who were involved, not the sheriff’s office, which oversees the jail.

Two of the defendants, Devan Strickland and Robert Lacy, are also being sued for alleged excessive force by tasing another inmate in 2014. Gwinnett County attorney William J. Smith is representing both plaintiffs.

Harris was being held before trial on charges including aggravated assault on a police officer and obstruction. He’s since pleaded guilty and served time in state prison, records show.

The sheriff’s office didn’t immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment and a question about whether the jailers still work there. Attempts to identify the defendants’ attorneys also weren’t successful.

Stephen Lorezen Harris
Stephen Lorezen Harris

The suit says Harris, who suffered from bipolar disorder, had been complaining for several days about the toilet. He asked to speak with a supervisor.

“Who do you think you are?” one defendant reportedly responded. “A supervisor doesn’t have time to come deal with the petty stuff you’re going through.”

The following day, the stench was “intolerable.”

Harris climbed in protest to a ledge behind a television and refused to come down until a captain came to speak with him. The captain came hours later, but told Harris “nothing was going to be done,” the suit claims.

Harris remained on the ledge, saying he feared he’d be beaten if he came down.

A doctor finally talked him down and intended to take him to the mental health wing to talk. He got down and put his hands against the wall, but was soon hit with pepper spray while one of the defendants yelled at him to get on the ground, the suit says.

Then the Taser.

Harris fell to the floor.

“Stop resisting!” a jailer screamed with a knee in his back, even though the Taser “completely incapacitated” Harris, the suit says.

He was taken to the medical wing, but no one could remove the Taser prong.

Harris says he suffered “extreme pain” as a result of the incident.

His lawsuit follows another recently filed by a former inmate against an ex-DeKalb jailer who was indicted on a battery charge related to a bloody 2014 beating.

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