Lawyer: $3.5M jail death settlement ‘huge victory for the family’

Montgomery County and its insurers will pay $3.5 million to the family of a man who died in 2012 while handcuffed face down in the county jail, topping $4.5 million for jail lawsuits settled since 2017.

That total doesn’t include hundreds of thousands of dollars more in legal fees for 14 lawsuits filed by inmates alleging mistreatment by Montgomery County Jail personnel since 2013.

Several of those cases are ongoing, and Montgomery County Commissioners are expected today to also approve another $315,000 to settling and defending two other lawsuits involving the jail.

RELATED: U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear appeal of Montgomery County Jail death lawsuit

The Dayton Daily News on Monday confirmed the amount agreed to be paid to the family of Robert A. Richardson Sr., 28, with attorneys who negotiated the deal — the same day a federal civil trial had been scheduled to begin.

Richardson suffered a seizure and corrections officers and medical personnel put him in handcuffs and restrained him face down until realizing 22 minutes later that Richardson had died.

“It’s a huge victory for the family in terms of what the civil justice system can offer them,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Nicholas DiCello, adding that the sides started final negotiations in mid-December. “The family’s been living with this and pursuing justice since Robert’s death back in 2012.”

Attorney Paul Krepps said he represents ex-Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer and several corrections officers but that legal fees will be paid by the county’s insurer.

RELATED: County wants to delay trial, but judge says no

“The amount is $3.5 million,” Krepps said. “It was a case that both parties agreed that we should sit down and try to resolve it. I believe that both sides are pleased that we were able to resolve it.”

DiCello said several steps must happen before the agreement is official, including probate court proceedings, finalizing the details and filing in Dayton’s U.S. District Court.

RELATED: County wants to forbid ‘racist’ text messages, bad press from dead inmate trial

Montgomery County Commission President Debbie Lieberman had not been notified by Monday afternoon of any settlement in the Richardson lawsuit, but she said it especially would come as welcome news.

“We are looking forward to that one settling, believe me,” Lieberman said. “I just feel like I want to get these all out of the way and move on. It’s unfortunate that there were so many. And there’s not one single thing you can blame or one single person.”

The Richardson settlement — along with $500,000 paid earlier in a settlement by jail health-care provider NaphCare — brings the overall total to $4 million due to Richardson’s family that includes nine minor children.

“We’ve been to the Court of Appeals. We’ve been up to the Supreme Court of the United States and back. So it’s a great victory as far as justice can be obtained by way of a settlement of the claims,” DiCello said. “And the family is happy in that regard.”

RELATED: Inmate’s family files wrongful death lawsuit against sheriff, jail personnel

Richardson was in jail for not appearing for a court hearing related to unpaid child support. He would have been released if $2,500 had been posted on his behalf, according to court documents.

“You know it’s always tough to bring closure to these situations because obtaining a monetary settlement — which will go a long way for his minor children and his family members of course,” DiCello said, “that’s really a far cry from what they’re going through in terms of their son, and brother, and father, and grandson, being gone.”

RELATED: Internal investigation finds no violations of policy

An internal investigation found no wrongdoing by jail personnel, finding that employees “restricted Mr. Richardson’s movement to prevent Mr. Richardson from injuring himself.”

In a deposition, sheriff’s office Capt. Chuck Crosby admitted that Richardson was placed in restraints while in a prone position, which is in violation of departmental policy.

“What happened to Robert was unacceptable, and a lot of mistakes were made, and we pursued this as far as we could,” DiCello said. “Having said that, there are good people working at that jail. There are committed people doing a very difficult job at that job and in law enforcement.”

County commissioners today will likely approve a settlement to former inmate Charles Wade and his attorney for $115,000 while also on the agenda is another $200,000 expenditure to attorneys currently representing Plummer, who is a defendant in a separate class-action federal civil rights lawsuit alleging overcrowding.

Wade, who was pepper-sprayed by officers while partially restrained in a chair in 2016, filed a lawsuit claiming the jail employees’ actions were improper and a violation of his civil rights.

County commissioners already put $100,000 toward defending the former sheriff in the class-action case that cited a November 2016 jail inspection report that said the recommended inmate population is 443 but that 791 people were being housed. Plummer was sworn in Monday as a new member of the Ohio House of Representatives.

As of July, the county had already spent more than $320,000 on the Richardson case.

The largest recent settlements were one to Emily Evans and her attorneys for $380,000 and another to Amber Swink for $375,000. Both were settled in 2017.

As lawsuits against jail staff mounted, county commissioners threatened to bring in the U.S. Justice Department to investigate potential civil rights violations. The sides agreed to form an independent citizen committee to study jail operations and make recommendations about policies and the facilities. The Justice Advisory Committee, formed in March 2017, has yet to issue its final report, said Dr. Gary LeRoy, a co-chair.

The committee hired CGL Companies of Lexington, Ky., to assess operations at the jail and report back to the group, which will issue its final recommendations to county commissioners as late March, when the committee’s two-year term is up, LeRoy said.

“But we are determined we are not going to wait that long,” he said Monday. “We want to give Montgomery County citizens a detailed, credible, well-researched report and practical recommendations that can be implemented and that are based on fact.”

Some of CGL’s findings became public during committee meetings held in July and August at the downtown Dayton Metro Library. In presentations made to the group, the consultants noted inadequate staffing and poor facility design, and said changes were needed in some operational policies, including when and how to use force or put an inmate in a restraint chair.

Though LeRoy said subcommittees continue to work, neither they nor the larger committee has met publicly since August. But more details were included in court documents filed in November in the inmate class-action lawsuit with named plaintiffs Nicholas Alston and Keith Barber.

Part of a CGL study admitted as evidence identified problems that include caring for those with behavioral health issues, assessing mental health conditions and preventing suicides. It stated that deteriorating mechanical systems plague the facility, including the building’s electric, plumbing, HVAC and security and control systems.

“The facility will remain difficult to operate safely and lacks minimally acceptable program and treatment facilities,” CGL’s draft report reads.

Other areas of the draft report gave the jail positive marks. Consultants noted the facility meets accreditation standards, has clear lines of authority and excels at collecting and documenting performance metrics facility-wide.

“While we condemn what happened to Robert, we also want to try to participate in the process of moving forward and creating a better relationship between law enforcement and the community,” DiCello said. “Ultimately, that’s the only way that you’re going to solve the problems that are going on down there.”

MORE: Read other stories from Mark Gokavi

SOCIAL MEDIA: Follow Mark Gokavi on Twitter or Facebook


About the Authors