Jury picked in federal jail mattress case; openings Wednesday

An 8-person jury was selected Tuesday in Dayton’s U.S. District Court to hear the civil rights trial of a former Montgomery County Jail inmate who was forced to sleep without a mattress or blanket for parts of his four-month stay. Opening statements are scheduled for Wednesday morning.

Court documents show that both plaintiffs’ and defense attorneys agree that David O. Cooper, 35, has a history of mental illness and tried to harm himself several times during his jail stay in 2012.

RELATED: Trial to start of inmate suing for not getting mattress in jail

The civil lawsuit is the first of several filed against jail staff in recent years for alleged abuse and/or neglect to go to trial. Four other cases have settled for $888,000 plus the county spent another $444,000 on outside legal counsel and litigation costs, according to county records. Other cases are pending.

U.S. District Court Judge Walter Rice questioned prospective jurors on several topics Tuesday morning and afternoon before attorneys for Cooper and Montgomery County had more specific inquiries.

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RELATED: County spending on lawsuits passes $1 million

Coopers’ attorney, John Helbling, asked potential jurors if they had a damages number that they just couldn’t go above no matter what the evidence showed if they found a defendant liable.

When Helbling suggested damages could be in the neighborhood of $3 to $4 million, Rice said the number was hypothetical and dealt with facts the jury hadn’t heard yet.

RELATED: Several current lawsuits against Montgomery County

Two potential jury members were dismissed after saying they thought there should be a cap on damages in civil trials or those against public entities.

When being questioned by Montgomery County assistant prosecutor Mary Montgomery, a couple prospective jury members who were nurses or had connections to nurses said they had concerns about a baseline standard of care such as someone not being provided a mattress.

JUSTICE IN THE JAILHOUSE: Lawsuits, accusations plague region’s county jails

No potential jury members were dismissed immediately after voicing their concerns. After peremptory challenges, the seated and sworn jury includes six men and two women.

Case documents show both sides stipulated that remaining Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office individual defendants Major Darryl Wilson and Capt. Chuck Crosby “took steps they deemed necessary” to stop Cooper from harming himself.

MORE: Read other stories from Mark Gokavi

That included taking away Cooper’s mattress and blanket for part of his time of incarceration, so that Cooper had to sleep on the floor, according to court documents.

The sheriff’s office has refused to comment about pending litigation and has not made individual defendants available to be interviewed. Court documents show the county argues that Cooper’s incarceration conditions do not rise to liability.

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