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Fired twice: Staff member at Racine County Juvenile Detention Center accused of child abuse

RACINE COUNTY -- A staff member at the Racine County Juvenile Detention Center is accused of child abuse after a June incident at the facility involving an inmate. His lawyer says he did what he was trained to do.

Ray Munoz

Ray Munoz, 45, of Racine faces one count of physical abuse of a child, intentionally causing bodily harm -- a felony. He told investigators he was fired from the Racine County Juvenile Detention Center in 2009 for using excessive force. He was eventually rehired.

The victim in this case is currently 17 years old. The alleged crime happened when the victim was 16.

Munoz is accused of assaulting the inmate at the Racine County Juvenile Detention Center in June of 2017 -- where Munoz was a staff member.

According to a criminal complaint, the inmate indicated he was being escorted back to his cell when "Ray" began twisting his arm and hurting him. He said Munoz tried to lead him to the incorrect cell, and when he tried to correct Munoz, he "perceived it as resisting," and "kneed and punched" the inmate, who said he then "spit on Ray in response." The inmate said he was "kneed three times in the stomach, punched once in the eye and once somewhere else on the face, and choked." He received medical attention as a result. An investigator said the inmate had marks below his right eye and on his neck.

Racine County Juvenile Detention Center

Another staff member said she was escorting the inmate back to his cell when two others approached to help, including Munoz. She reported the inmate was "crying and upset," but not resisting or being uncooperative. The staff member said while they were escorting the inmate, he "asked Munoz to stop hurting his hand," and "asked for the release of his hand" three times. The victim then spit on Munoz's shirt, at which point Munoz let go of the inmate, who started to step back into his cell. The staff member said at this point, Munoz "grabbed the inmate at the front of his neck and squeezed." The inmate struggled to free himself and the staff member reported "Munoz let go and punched the inmate in the sternum," causing him to fall to the ground. The staff member said Munoz then "held the inmate on the floor, while the inmate cried." She said the situation made her uncomfortable and "she believed Munoz used excessive force."

Aneeq Ahmad

"My client was trained in these tactics, and he was acting in accordance to his training," said Aneeq Ahmad, Munoz's attorney. "In a jail, in a detention center, sometimes you are going to have to grab a hold of a kid or especially if they are attacking you."

A supervisor said Munoz completed a report about his contact with the inmate, and "specifically left out any reference to knee strikes." When questioned about this, the complaint says Munoz said he "forgot to include the use of force in his report." He indicated he was terminated in 2009 due to excessive force involving his keys hitting a juvenile in the arm.

Racine County officials said he returned to work in 2015, and at the time, a criminal background check did not reveal anything that would preclude employment. He was fired again in June in connection with this case. County officials said his firing and rehiring was done under different leadership, and changes have been made so this wouldn't happen again.

According to the complaint, Munoz said he observed the inmate "being verbally aggressive with staff," and when another staff member released the inmate's arm, he "took over and began escorting the inmate to his cell." He said the inmate "continued to be verbally aggressive and began to hit Munoz on his arm to get free," before spitting on him. Munoz said he then delivered a knee strike to the inmate's abdomen, and the inmate was taken to the floor, face down.

He agreed that the use of a knee strike wasn't necessary to gain compliance from the inmate, the complaint says. His attorney said they'll be fighting the charges.

"This is not what we would think when we think child abuse. Right? This is a guy just trying to do his job," said Ahmad.

Munoz made his initial appearance in court on March 27. Probable cause was found for further proceedings, and a preliminary hearing was set for April 11.

A $5,000 signature bond was set and signed.

Below is the full statement on Munoz' firing and rehiring, from Hope Otto, the Racine County human services director:

“Mr. Munoz no longer works at the Racine County Juvenile Detention Facility. Mr. Munoz returned to work in 2015 as a contracted employee under a prior superintendent who also no longer works with the County. At that time, criminal background checks were done and did not reveal anything that would preclude employment, as he did not have a criminal record. Once we became aware of the 2017 incident, Mr. Munoz was relieved of his duties the same day.

Under current leadership, our protocol for screening employees includes both a criminal background check as well as a caregiver background to ensure anyone with child abuse or neglect claims will not obtain employment at the facility. All of our employees undergo extensive training to administer proper de-escalation techniques. Anyone found to have committed an act of child abuse or neglect or having a relevant criminal background is not eligible for hire at the facility.”