Walton County teen accuses deputies of excessive force

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A teenager and his family are suing the Walton County Sheriff’s Office claiming deputies at the jail jolted the 17-year-old unnecessarily in an isolation cell. The sheriff said the teen was in an isolation cell because he was threatening to injure himself and needed protection.

Justin Durden described the jolt after taking prongs from a Taser at the Walton County Jail in mid-February.

“From that Taser to that Taser it felt like it just grabbed your body and you couldn't move like a big electric bolt just went through you,” said Durden.

Durden said a deputy told him to remove his jump suit because he was in an isolation cell. Durden said when he resisted the deputy pepper sprayed him which he said led him to kick off the jumpsuit toward the deputy who then zapped him.

“No, I didn't raise my voice once at them, I feel like they abused their badge,” said Durden.

Walton County Sheriff Joe Chapman had a different version of Durden's behavior that day.

“He's verbally non-compliant, he’s not striking, but he’s making threats,” said Chapman.

The sheriff said the deputy involved asked Durden repeatedly to remove his jumpsuit or face pepper spray. Chapman said inmates like Durden who threaten to harm themselves are placed in paper gowns so they can't use the gowns to hang themselves. He said the use of pepper spray and a Taser on Durden was necessary.

“That garment has pepper spray on it and he kicks it onto the face of one of the deputies standing at the door and at that time is when he was tazed. My deputy’s safety is just important as anyone else,” said Chapman.

Lori Couch, Durden’s mother claims deputies ignored her son's medical condition which leads to seizures. His family is suing the Walton County Sheriff’s Office for excessive force and medical costs and is demanding the deputies involved be fired.

Durden is out of jail on bond for theft charges related to auto break-ins. His attorney is now considering asking for outside help.

“At some point we may ask the GBI or some outside agency to come in and look at it but we’re not there yet it’s still fresh and relatively new,” said Eric Crawford.

Sheriff Chapman said he is already considering outside help.

“And I will ask the GBI to look into the matter. I don’t cover up for misconduct,” said Sheriff Chapman.

The sheriff said neither Durden nor his family ever filed a formal complaint with him about any potential misconduct.

The Sheriff said he believes the release of the video to the media is politicaly motivated because he is running for re-election.

Crawford, who admits he doesn't support Chapman for Sheriff, said he simply wants the Sheriff to hold the deputies involved accountable.

Durden said he now plans to stay out of trouble.

The Sheriff said the seventeen year old has received plenty of warnings including from his uncle who is a deputy with the Walton County Sheriff's Office.