ST. PAUL — After Terrell Wilson’s experience at the Ramsey County jail in 2016, one of the reasons he moved to Wisconsin was because of his fear of law enforcement in Minnesota, his attorney said Sunday, March 3.
Wilson, who was previously referred to as Terrell Johnson, is the restrained man seen in a recently released video who was at the receiving end of punches and knee strikes from Ramsey County sheriff’s correctional officer Travis VanDeWiele.
Attorney Mike Padden, now representing Wilson, said Sunday the 27-year-old will be pursuing a claim for compensation, though he doesn’t know how much money he’ll be seeking. Padden said he will attempt to negotiate a resolution without litigation, though he potentially will file a lawsuit.
“I think for any normal human being, it’s hard to watch that video, but the thing that really is shocking is the fact that the other officers didn’t step in and say, ‘What are you doing?’ ” Padden said. “It’s a miracle he’s alive because he easily could have been suffocated.”
A “spit hood” was placed over Wilson’s mouth at the jail. As jail staff tried to secure Wilson in a transport chair and Wilson was bent at the waist, VanDeWiele is seen forcibly pushing his head down.
Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher, who did not work for the sheriff’s office in 2016, said Sunday he will be encouraging the Ramsey County attorney’s office to settle the case quickly.
“It’s clear that Mr. Wilson suffered damages,” Fletcher said. “There’s no sense in wasting county taxpayer dollars to defend the indefensible.”
John Siqveland, Ramsey County spokesman, said that “as a matter of course, we wouldn’t comment on potential litigation.”
Wilson found video 'chilling'
Wilson, who was brought to jail after being arrested for theft, did not previously know there was video of the April 2016 incident and recently saw it, Padden said. He had not remembered everything it showed.
“It’s chilling for him,” Padden said. “He thought he was going to die, that wasn’t something he forgot. But sometimes when you go through a really traumatic experience, just as a normal human defense mechanism, you try to put it out of your mind and try to move on.”
Wilson, who was referred to as Terrell Johnson in court documents, now works in Western Wisconsin and lives there with his girlfriend and their son, Padden said.
The Washington County attorney’s office, which reviewed the criminal investigation into VanDeWiele, declined to charge the correctional officer with a felony.
Padden said he thought the decision was unbelievable.
“It’s a perfect example how there’s one set of laws for (law enforcement) and one set of laws for the rest of us,” he said.
The prosecutor who reviewed the case told the Pioneer Press he didn’t feel he could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Wilson’s injuries qualified as “substantial bodily harm,” which is required for a felony assault charge under Minnesota law.
VanDeWiele was charged with misdemeanor assault, which was dismissed when he pleaded guilty last year to disorderly conduct.
He was put on leave from the sheriff’s office in February 2017 after he was charged. VanDeWiele remained on leave during a subsequent internal affairs investigation and as he appealed the the sheriff’s office move to terminate him. He was paid more than $120,000 during the two years.
VanDeWiele, 46, resigned, effective last Thursday.