More than a year after his arrest on Dec. 2, 2021, Juan Sterk said his experiences at the Alachua County Jail never leave his mind and consume his day-to-day life. He hopes the telling of his story now will bring about change in the way inmates are treated.
The now 64-year-old retired iron worker said he always strived to be a hardworking citizen who did his best to stay out of trouble. He said he was surprised when law enforcement showed up at his home to arrest him on charges of fraud and grand larceny.
He said the charges that landed him in jail, and which would ultimately be dismissed, had to do with a dispute over an RV repair payment. He wrote a check to RV One Superstores in Gainesville for over $3,000 to cover repairs of his vehicle but later stopped payment on the check.
Sterk said his cancellation of the payment was based on the recommendation of an insurance adjuster due to the view that the work completed on the RV was unsatisfactory.
Court records in Alachua County indicate that he also faced a trespassing charge in 2015 that was also later dismissed and is unrelated to his 2021 arrest.
Sterk said he was traumatized by his experiences at the jail. Officials there have denied his allegations of mistreatment. On Dec. 19, 2022, more than a year after his arrest, Sterk filed a complaint about his treatment. Two days later, he received a letter from the Office of Professional Standards, signed by its Chief Inspector Jonathan Schabruch, stating that based on a review of available records, Sterk’s allegations were unfounded.
According to Sterk, he was taken to the jail without shoes, he said, and was placed through a metal detector. Sterk said it was difficult for him to follow instructions from jail staffers due to his impaired hearing; he is deaf in one ear and has severely limited hearing in the other. At some point, he said, one of the staffers said he had metal on him.
“That’s when it really got bad,” he said.
At that point, Sterk said, several officers wrenched his arms behind his back and placed him in a headlock. He said his attempts to offer an explanation to the staffers were unsuccessful.
“Man, I got metal in my knees,” Sterk said. “My knees are all wired up and stuff. I said that’s probably the metal that’s going off.”
Sterk said he was then taken into another room where the alleged physical abuse from staffers continued. It got to a point, he said, that he lost consciousness and urinated and defecated.
“I was in agony. I was in serious agony. It was unreal,” he said.
He said he started to regain consciousness as he was being dragged to a cell; he found himself unclothed as he was dragged but had not undressed on his own accord.
“They basically raped me,” he said. “They ripped my clothes off for me.”
He said that when he was placed in a cell, he repeatedly asked the guards for a phone call and was laughed at. He slapped on the door of his cell, and he was mockingly told that he would not get a phone and that he had simply watched too many movies. He said he was worried his wife wouldn’t even know that he had been arrested as she wasn’t home when law enforcement showed up.
His wife ultimately bailed him out, and he proceeded to head home on foot. As he made the trek from the jail to his house in Earleton, his friend and neighbor, Joseph Lague, happened to be passing by in his car to take trash to the dump. Lague said he noticed, at the time, how different his friend looked, and he noted that he appeared to have gone through a difficult ordeal.
“He wasn’t really with it,” he said in describing Sterk’s state. “He was all messed up.”
Following his written complaint to the jail, Sterk was also provided with correspondence written by an inspector named Kyle Salman and addressed to Schabruch. In it, Salman makes note of a jail log entry that describes Sterk as belligerent in his attitude toward the staff. The log indicated that Sterk had yelled at staff members and refused to wear a mask. It notes that he attempted to resist the officers’ holds and would not cooperate in taking his clothes off in the dress-out room.
“The inmate was brought to his feet, and the remainder of his clothing were removed,” according to the log entry. Sterk was then taken to a cell for what the log entry describes as “a cooling-off period.” Sterk acknowledged that he was adamant about being able to make a phone call.
“The inmate continues to yell at and threaten staff while demanding a phone call,” the log reads.
In denying the allegations of violence against Sterk, Salman stated in his correspondence that Sterk does not appear to be injured or in a state of discomfort in his booking photograph.
“Additionally, Mr. Sterk’s hair appears to be well styled and neatly combed, making it unlikely he had been placed in a ‘headlock’ prior to the photograph,” Salman wrote.
Medical records from Gainesville’s Orthopaedic Institute, located at 4500 Newberry Road, indicate that Sterk likely faced some form of injury around this period. X-rays taken on Dec. 20, 2021 — 18 days after Sterk’s arrest — indicate he suffered “a possible subacute fracture” in his clavicle. The medical findings also show that Sterk was “tender to palpation over the midshaft of the clavicle.”
Sterk said he hopes that telling his story will lead to reform at the jail and wants to see accountability for the staffers he claims harmed him.
“They put a scar on my life that’s never gonna go away,” he said.