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N4T Investigators: Suspect behavior

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TUCSON - "They placed me, or tossed me, into the restraint chair. They began to crush me in half," said Melissa Tenery.

Tenery claims she was assaulted by Pima County Sheriff's deputies and that they should pay for it. The deputies paint a very different picture of what happened.

Irwin was in the county jail for several hours in March after being arrested for domestic violence. She was put in a restraint chair, for no reason, she claims, and says deputies caused her to suffer wrist and back injuries. The jail surveillance video provided to the News 4 Tucson Investigators by Irwin's attorney contains no audio. It begins in the intake room, where, deputies say, Tenery caused a disturbance.

"I was sitting, minding my own business when they came out to get me," Tenery said.

But in one shot she's not sitting, she's waving her hands, talking to a deputy and apparently upset.

"I was nervous, I wasn't yelling, I was voicing my opinion," she said.

She says she was upset because a man threw his shoes towards her, and because there were bloody cotton balls near where the deputies made her sit, and said she's a germaphobe. She was taken to a holding cell.

“They forced me into the corner where they put both arms behind my back,” she said.  “I was not able to move. There was a lot of yelling going on, forcing my face into the corner.”

Four deputies put in her a restraint chair. Two others stood nearby.

“They placed me, or tossed me into the restraint chair, they began to crush me in half. This went on for approximately five to six minutes," she said.

At one point in the video, it appears Tenery tries to head-butt a deputy. She says it only looks that way because she was pushed forward, and forced to put her head between her legs.

She denied any bad behavior. We asked her, “If you were doing nothing wrong why would the deputies put you in a restraint chair?” “No reason,” she said. “No reason at all.” We asked why they would put her in the chair if she didn’t provoke them. She said, “I don’t know.”

Tenery’s attorney, Joseph St. Louis, said, “She was hurt, and hurt badly by their actions, and they were completely unnecessary. Nowhere in any manual or regulation or rule does it say you fold the person in half like a folding chair. And put the full weight of two officers down on somebody who is not actively resisting you. Someone who is not a threat to you.”

A sheriff's department spokesperson declined an interview due to the pending lawsuit. Melissa filed a complaint with the department's Office of Professional Standards. The News 4 Tucson Investigators obtained the case reports after filing a public records request. Here are the main findings from those reports:

-An investigation was conducted by the Office of Professional Standards and the Allegations were determined to be unfounded.

-Ms. Tenery was uncooperative and attempted to hit the officers with her head and kick them while also trying to free herself from their control.

-A review of medical records notes multiple bruises and moderate swelling to her hand, as well as other conditions not related to the alleged assault from the officers.

We said to Tenery, “Some people watching this might say you're just trying to make a money grab here. It's all about you getting money.” She replied, “This is not about the money. This is about a 48-year-old grandmother. I don't want another woman to have to go through this. You know, they had a male in there throwing shoes and did nothing to him. Why me? I can't answer that question for you.”

So the question is: is this an assault or a money-grab? That could be up to a jury to decide. Tenery says she doesn't know how much money she will ask for.

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at (520) 955-4444.

Matthew Schwartz

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