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Baxter County Sheriff’s Office faces lawsuit over alleged inmate-on-inmate assault

With the Tabitha King court case looming over the horizon, the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office has found itself at the center of a second lawsuit following a filing by a former Baxter County inmate alleging that the Sheriff’s Office failed to protect him from an inmate-on-inmate assault.

Steven Ray Gauger, 31, of Mountain Home, alleges that on June 18, 2019, the jailers on duty for the night allowed Gauger to be beaten by his fellow inmates in a location that was out of sight from the guards and out of view from the camera.

Gauger is a repeat criminal in Mountain Home and has been in and out of prison for various thefts and break ins, with most of his cases being reduced to contempt of court charges or dismissed entirely.

Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery responded to Gauger’s filing with one of his own, denying the allegations completely. The Sheriff referred the Observer to his legal council when asked for comment.

Gauger’s allegations

On June 17, Gauger filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court for the Western District of Arkansas alleging that during the early morning hours of June 18, 2019, that he “was attacked and beaten unconscious by multiple inmates in our pod, out of sight of guards and cameras,” and that he “was left beaten and barely conscious, receiving no medical attention for 10-12 hours while suffering from a broken caved in eye socket and severe head injury resulting in concussion.”

Gauger further alleges in his filing that the jailers on duty failed to check on Gauger’s safety and well being throughout the night. He alleges that he received no food during mealtimes, nor was his ID badge scanned.

In a more troubling twist, Gauger alleges that jailers gave his meal to the very same inmates in his pod who attacked him. Gauger was located in C-Pod of the Baxter County Detention Center.

Later that day, Gauger was collected for a court appearance 10-12 hours following his assault. He alleges that he was then cuffed to a bench for two hours before jailers at the detention center determined that he need medical assistance at Baxter Health.

He alleges that Baxter Health determined that he should be taken by ambulance to Mercy hospital in Springfield, Missouri. His filing states that he was then transported to Springfield for medical assistance.

Gauger’s suit states that he was diagnosed with a broken eye socket and a severe concussion. He alleges that he still needs reconstructive surgery to repair damage to his eye socket and bone structure.

Gauger is bringing his suit under 42 U.S.C 1983 which allows claims alleging the “deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and [federal laws].”

Under 42 U.S.C 1983, Gauger claims that he “was not provided with safe humane living condition free of harm,” and that he “was not provided with medical care when needed.” He further states that, “Baxter County Detention Center failed to collect a complaint from me after a severe head injury that occurred while being in their custody and resulted in being transported by ambulance to two Hospitals.”

Gauger has asked to the court to “consider all past medical bills and related expenses yet to occur due to the serious nature and complications of the injury sustained while under the negligent detainment of Baxter County Detention Center as well as damages for pain and suffering.”

In his return filing to the court, Sheriff Montgomery stated, “As pleaded, the allegations of the Complaint (Doc. No. 1) are denied,” and further states that he “specifically and expressly denies each and every allegation not specifically and expressly admitted in this Answer.”

Montgomery was ordered by Magistrate Judge Mark E. Ford to turn over the names of the jailers that were on duty during the alleged incident. That documentation has already been turned over to the court.

A pattern of allegations

Montgomery has now found himself at the heart of two lawsuits surrounding his jail and his staff over the past year.

In December of last year, Tabitha King, a former jailer and deputy with the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office, filed a suit alleging wrongful termination after she complained of sexual harassment and a forced sexual encounter by former Sergeant Steven Goode.

Goode was terminated during the course of an internal investigation of King’s claims within the Sheriff’s Office.

King’s lawsuit was initially vague but was further refined by the additional of new legal council to unveil several new allegations surrounding her case. Those claims include multiple instances of sexual harassment by Goode, as well as a forced sexual act by Goode while the two were moving inmate mattresses from a shed. Goode was also accused of sending inappropriate photos to King, and of preventing King from receiving medical attention during a miscarriage while at work in 2020.

The trial for King’s lawsuit is set to begin next year. More details on that lawsuit can be found here.

With a second lawsuit now in the pipeline, questions surrounding the Baxter County Detention Center and the conduct of the employees within it, are beginning to form. Some of the jailers and employees mentioned in King’s suit are also mentioned in Gauger’s suit, including King herself, who was listed as being on duty with Goode during Gauger’s alleged incident.

No official court date has been set for Gauger’s lawsuit.

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