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A judge ruled Friday that a former Hamilton County sheriff’s deputy did not commit a crime two years ago when he kicked a jail inmate in the head after the man bit his work boot.
At a bench trial Friday in Hamilton County Municipal Court that lasted about 3½ hours, Judge Bernie Bouchard found Jesse Franklin not guilty of a misdemeanor assault charge.
Bouchard said "the use of force by (Franklin) in this particular situation did not rise to the level of a crime."
The incident happened June 9, 2020. At the time, Franklin was a sergeant at the county jail. He was ultimately fired because of his actions.
The man Franklin kicked, Nick Ballachino, had been taken to the jail by Cincinnati police after being arrested on charges of disorderly conduct while intoxicated and obstructing police. Both men are white.
Ballachino, then 46, became combative, officials said, and at least five deputies initially were involved in restraining him.
After an investigation, Franklin was charged in July 2020 with misdemeanor assault. But a year later, in August 2021, city prosecutors dismissed the charge. Franklin's attorney, Mike Allen, said in court documents that the charge was dismissed because prosecutors “could find no expert who would say” Franklin’s conduct was criminal or “even unreasonable.”
Then in November 2021, Franklin was again charged with misdemeanor assault. Charging documents, which includes few details, cite a detective’s investigation and video of the incident.
The documents say Franklin kicked Ballachino in the head while he was lying face-down on the floor.
Then-sheriff Jim Neil said at the time that he was outraged by Franklin’s conduct and that it was inconsistent with the agency’s training.
Allen said in court documents that a use of force expert determined Franklin used a “permitted range of force” during the incident.
Video of the incident showed that it was a “rapidly evolving confrontation that lasted over five minutes” and ultimately involved nine officers, the documents say.
Franklin’s kick, according to the documents, didn’t even subdue Ballachino.
According to the documents, the video reveals that Ballachino “continued to both resist and assault the officers while being lifted from the ground, pressed against a wall,” and even after deputies placed a hood over his head because he was spitting at them.
A spokeswoman for the sheriff's office said Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey's administration "will continue to have zero tolerance for excessive force." She declined to comment further. McGuffey began her tenure in January 2021.
A lawsuit Ballachino filed against Franklin as well as the county is still pending. Fanon Rucker, an attorney for Ballachino, said Friday's verdict "was not consistent with what everyone saw with their own eyes" and that Franklin's kick was not a reasonable or appropriate use of force.
The outcome of the case, Rucker said, seems to indicate that there are different standards, depending on your profession.
"If that had been anyone else who kicked someone in the head," he said, "they would probably still be in jail on a high bond."
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Ex-Hamilton County deputy who kicked inmate in the head not guilty