Corrections officer accused of breaking inmate’s knee inside Isabella County Jail to face jury

Corrections officer accused of breaking inmate’s knee inside Isabella County Jail to face jury

MOUNT PLEASANT, MI — A former corrections officer within the Isabella County Jail accused of breaking an inmate’s kneecap and waiting hours to get him help is a step closer to facing a jury.

The preliminary examination of Christopher E. Cluley, 46, concluded Wednesday, June 15, with Isabella County District Judge Sara Spencer-Noggel binding the defendant over to Circuit Court for trial. The hearing took place over several days, beginning in November and continuing in March.

Since October, Cluley has faced two counts of misconduct in office and one count of aggravated assault. The former is a five-year felony while the latter is a one-year misdemeanor.

“This case was the result of our public integrity team scrutinizing Mr. Cluley’s conduct to ensure the oath to protect and serve was not neglected,” said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, whose office is prosecuting the case. “We look forward to moving to trial.”

Troy-based attorney John Freeman is representing Cluley and said he’s disappointed the case was bound over rather than being dismissed by Judge Spencer-Noggel. In his eyes, the case has broader ramifications for law enforcement.

“The case itself is the kind where every law enforcement officer and corrections officer in the state of Michigan needs to pay attention to,” Freeman said. “What it shows is a willingness of the Attorney General’s Office to use employer policies as a basis for a five-year felony charge merely because of the fact that somebody is a public official. The policies they’re using are internal, department policies that don’t have the weight of law.”

According to an affidavit attached to court files, Cluley on April 12, 2020, was working as a sergeant within the jail when he assaulted an inmate.

Cluley interacted with a male inmate during a cell transfer, the result of a verbal disagreement between the inmate and another officer.

Video footage showed Cluley forcibly taking the inmate down a hallway to segregation, pushing him through a doorway. The inmate lost his balance and fell forward on his knees, breaking his left patella, or kneecap, the affidavit states.

The inmate screamed loudly in pain but Cluley let him lie on the ground for two and a half hours before getting him medical attention, the affidavit states.

Cluley then lied in a report, writing the inmate had clenched his fists and come at him. Cluley also wrote he used no force against the inmate, the affidavit states.

Cluley violated five agency policies through his conduct — use of force, reporting unusual incidences, emergency health care, inmate discipline, and inmates’ rights, according to the affidavit.

“What you have here is the executive branch of the state government coming in and saying, ‘We’re going to use that internal policy and that’s going to be the basis of a five-year felony,’” Freeman said. “Things are hard enough for law enforcement these days and this may very well have a chilling effect on law enforcement being able to do their job and being able to protect the public and themselves.”

Freeman also took issue with the way Cluley’s actions were characterized in the affidavit. Cluley was moving the inmate to an administrative segregation cell to maintain order in the facility when the inmate planted his feet and refused to move, Freeman said.

“Mr. Cluley pushed (the inmate) in order to move him,” Freeman said. “In the course of that, (the inmate) fell to the ground. It’s crystal clear on video that (the inmate)’s pants were falling down and it’s my belief that contributed to his falling.”

After the inmate fell, Cluley promptly notified the jail nurse that she should check on him once he had calmed down, Freeman said. Only a short period of time elapsed between the inmate’s fall and Cluley speaking to the nurse, he said.

“There was absolutely no intent on Christopher Cluley’s part to injure (the inmate),” Freeman said. “His intent was to maintain order. The idea he delayed (getting help) is completely inaccurate.”

Cluley was placed on administrative leave while the Isabella County Sheriff’s Office conducted an internal investigation.

The Isabella County Sheriff’s Department then contacted the Michigan State Police and MSP’s Special Investigation Section completed their own investigation, referring the matter to the Department of Attorney General’s Public Integrity Unit.

Isabella County Undersheriff Tom Burns said Cluley was not a jail administrator, contrary to other media reports. Sheriff Mike Main said Cluley was placed on leave the morning of the incident. His employment was terminated when the Attorney General’s Office issued charges against him, Main said.

Cluley’s next court date is pending.