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County Settles With Family Over In-Custody Death of Inmate

Amount: $862,500
Plaintiff’s Counsel: David M. Paris

David M. Paris and Terry H. Gilbert represented the family of a 28-year-old man who was in pre-trial detention in the mental health unit of the Summit County Jail. At the time of his death, he was survived by his father and mother. A 1983 action for wrongful death as well as survival action for his pain and suffering was filed against the county and its sheriff’s deputies.

Our client had a history of mental illness which escalated during the summer of 2006. He had become homeless and his bipolar disorder had resulted in two prior arrests in the two months before he died. He was brought to the county jail as a result of a mental health crisis and assigned to the jail’s mental health ward. On August 20, 2006, while in custody, our client suffered a mental health crisis which the Defendants believed posed a risk of self-harm along with “unruly behavior.” They contacted the on-call social worker and conveyed their perceptions. The on-call social worker contacted the on-call psychiatrist and reported her conversations.

The doctor ordered four-point restraints and injections of anti-psychotic medication. To accomplish this, approximately six deputies were assembled to enter the cell and subdue the decedent so the medications could be administered. When the decedent would not cooperate, the deputies tased him several times, fought him, and kicked him. He was ultimately subdued and cuffed behind his back and shackled at the ankles.

At that point, several deputies conceded that he was no longer a threat, no longer fighting, and not being aggressive. The nurse entered the cell and administered the anti-psychotic medication, at which time all of the deputies exited the cell, leaving our client cuffed, shackled, and laying in a prone position. Despite the fact that he was no longer posing a threat, one deputy obtained a 1-pound can of OC spray, returned to the cell, and sprayed our client about the buttocks, back, and back of the head. This was done in order to “let him cook.” Approximately 15 minutes after he was medicated and doused with OC spray, deputies returned to his cell to move him to a restraint cell and found that he was dead.

The autopsy determined that death was caused by asphyxiation due to the combined effects of chemical, mechanical, and electrical restraint, with hypertensive arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease as a contributory condition. We retained a former prison warden as an expert, who opined that the deputies engaged in excessive force and deliberately ignored the health care needs of our client. In his opinion, the conduct of the county and the deputies was a proximate cause of our client’s death. Our second expert was a forensic pathologist who opined that the cause of death was asphyxiation due to the manner in which he was restrained (hog-tied) and the manner that he was doused with OC spray.

The defense retained two standard of care experts who opined that the deputies’ conduct was justifiable, and five medical experts who all claimed that the cause of death had nothing to do with being beaten, hog-tied, or doused with OC spray, but rather was due to a condition known as “excited delirium” and a pre-existing enlarged heart with coronary artery disease.

The case was settled for $862,500 at a private mediation shortly before trial.

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