County spending on jail lawsuits tops $1M

The amount of taxpayer money spent defending and settling a spate of lawsuits against the Montgomery County Jail soared above a million dollars Tuesday when county commissioners approved a $380,000 payout to Emily Evans.

Evans, then 27, was brought to the jail in 2014 on a drunk driving charge. The lawsuit claimed Evans was was threatened by a deputy who had a Taser pointed at her and was then slammed to the floor by a sergeant, causing facial fractures.

RELATED: Jail captain charged with assault for pepper-spraying inmate

Evans is the fourth former inmate in the last four months and the second within two weeks to receive a settlement over alleged mistreatment in the jail. The settlements alone have cost the county $888,000. An additional $444,000 has been spent on outside legal counsel and litigation costs, according to county records. Six lawsuits against the jail are pending.

“We have to end up with significantly fewer lawsuits because taxpayers are paying a lot of money – too much money – to resolve these cases,” said Montgomery County Commission President Dan Foley.

SPECIAL REPORT: Justice in the Jailhouse — Lawsuits, accusations plague county jails in the region

Maj. Matt Haines, who commands the jail, said Tuesday there have been no policy changes identified in the wake of the settled lawsuits including those brought by Amber Swink, Marsha Pate-Strickland and Darryl Wallace, whose case was settled last week.

“In three of the lawsuits that resulted in a settlement employees were held accountable and received discipline for violating policies that were already in force at the time of the incident and our internal investigation into the fourth is still pending due to an open criminal case,” Haines said.

Critical work is underway by the Justice Advisory Committee for the Montgomery County Jail, Foley said. Formed in March, the committee will ultimately provide a report to commissioners that will identify best practices around programming, staffing levels, training, policies and procedures, as well as “bricks and mortar investments” the county needs to make in the facility which saw its last major renovation in 1994.

“We have one jail in this community and we don’t have a backup option,” he said. “So it’s incumbent on us to make sure that the jail is the safest jail it can be for the community.”

Foley said the committee is close to hiring a professional jail consultant to help assemble the report.

RELATED: County jail deaths add sense of urgency to advisory group’s review

Rabbi Bernard Barsky, a co-chairman of the committee, said the group isn’t looking at specific allegations in the suits but instead on the broader underlying issues such as overcrowding, medical and mental health services, and staffing.

“The situations at the jail are a result of the reality of life in the jail: the fact that it’s overcrowded, the fact the jail staff is overburdened,” he said. “That’ll certainly encompass whatever issues led to those lawsuits.”

In the Evans lawsuit, one corrections officer was disciplined for using the laser aiming system on his Taser inappropriately. The officer who Evans accused of “slamming” her to the ground, however, was not found to have violated any policy.

“An independent use of force expert reviewed the Evans case and video and found that no force was used and that Evans propelled herself onto the ground,” Haines said.

Evans’ attorney, L. Michael Bly did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

The corrections officer in the Pate-Strickland case was given a letter of caution for failing to notify a supervisor of an escalating situation, resulting in a use of force that “coult have been avoided,” the letter says.

RELATED: Ex-jail officer disciplined for actions that spurred federal lawsuit

The corrections officer in the Wallace case was disciplined and referred for possible criminal charges, which was denied by county and city prosecutors.

RELATED: Fired officer wants county to pay for his defense in civil suit

Capt. Judith Sealey, whose pepper-spraying of Swink in a restraint chair led to the Swink suit, is still facing possible prosecution. Montgomery County prosecutors say there is insufficient evidence for felony charges. Dayton city prosecutors asked Cincinnati city prosecutors to review the case for possible misdemeanor charges.

Sealey was charged with assault on Nov. 8 in Dayton Municipal Court and pleaded not guilty Tuesday, her attorney Anthony VanNoy said.

RELATED: Local jails overcrowded, failing safety standards, investigation shows

Montgomery County Jail lawsuit settlements

Four lawsuits of at least 10 cases filed against Montgomery County Jail staff have been settled out of court.

Amber Swink: $375,000, August 2017

Marsha Pate-Strickland: $75,000, Octber 2017

Darryl Wallace: $58,000, November 2017

Emily Evans: $380,000, November 2017