County settles jail suit from homeless vet needing $5.3M for care

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Surveillance: Homeless vet allegedly beaten

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Montgomery County and its insurers have settled a lawsuit brought by a homeless veteran who alleged his head was slammed into a concrete wall by a Montgomery County Jail sergeant who allegedly told co-workers he wanted to “beat” Joseph Guglielmo for banging on a cell door.

A Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office spokesman said the document with the settlement amount is not yet complete in the case that had a June 17 trial date. But in court documents an expert estimated it would cost nearly $5.3 million to care for Guglielmo for the rest of his life.

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If the settlement is near that amount, then along with the reported $3.5 million settlement for the family of the late Robert Richardson and other lawsuit resolutions, payouts likely will exceed the $10 million figure estimated by county commissioner Debbie Lieberman in August 2018.

A few other cases — including the impacted bowel death of inmate Sasha Garvin — are pending out of group of at least 15 recent jail lawsuits that helped lead to the formation of a jail advisory committee that recommended several changes.

Guglielmo, 61, was a jail pretrial detainee for a low-level assault charge when he alleged then-Sgt. Matthew Snyder struck him repeatedly in the head on Jan. 15, 2015. Guglielmo’s attorneys claimed co-defendants Matthew Sears, Brandon Ort and Zachary Zink did nothing to stop Snyder.

A sheriff’s office spokeswoman said no statement would be coming while the settlement was pending and that she doubted Snyder would be made available for comment.

In a federal civil rights complaint filed in Dayton’s U.S. District Court, Guglielmo’s attorneys claimed he needed emergency craniotomy to relieve pressure inside his skull, was in a coma for three weeks, had 24 screws drilled into his skull with five titanium plates and had orbital fractures that could not be repaired.

Guglielmo’s lead attorney said his client is confined to a wheelchair, has lived in a Florida nursing home and is need of lifetime care.

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“He is glad that the litigation is resolved and is focusing on getting some improved health care for himself,” said attorney Douglas Brannon, who brought the case along with co-counsel Jennifer Branch, Nathan Stuckey and Michael Wright.

Plaintiffs claim that Guglielmo has “a right facial droop, a dense left hemiplegia (paralysis on the left side of his body), an inability to ambulate, memory and concentration difficulties, and significant personality changes that according to family include being depressed, anxious and not in as good control of his temper and behavior as he had been prior to the beating at the jail.”

A certified life care planner for the plaintiffs estimated it would cost $5,286,858 to move Guglielmo closer to his family and attend to ongoing medical needs, according to court documents.

Sergeant was not disciplined

“The matter is settled,” Brannon said, noting that Snyder was not disciplined by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office after an internal affairs investigation found no wrongdoing by Snyder or anyone else. “The deputy involved is still out on patrol in Harrison Twp.”

Snyder demoted himself from a jail sergeant to a deputy and took nearly a $5 per hour pay cut in February 2015, about two weeks after Guglielmo was taken to Miami Valley Hospital, according to the internal investigation of Snyder’s use of force.

Zink resigned Feb. 20, 2015, while Sears is a deputy in Harrison Twp. and Ort is a corrections officer, according to sheriff’s office records.

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The lawsuit claimed Snyder used excessive force and acted in deliberate indifference to Guglielmo’s medical needs. It also said Guglielmo’s mistreatment and suffering was the result of “a custom or policy of permitting the use of excessive force against pretrial detainees” at the jail.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rose ruled May 28 that key pieces of Guglielmo’s complaint survived the defendants’ efforts to dismiss the case.

“We are very pleased with the decision from Judge Rose,” Brannon said after the summary judgment ruling.

Surveillance didn’t show incident

Guglielmo, an Air Force veteran, was arrested at the Gettysburg Gateway Homeless Shelter at 12:41 a.m. Jan. 15, 2015, and accused of assaulting a staff member. After a trip to Grandview Hospital to have an abrasion examined, he was booked into jail.

Snyder talked to Guglielmo about how they both served in the military, Snyder said in a deposition. Later, Snyder said Guglielmo was banging and punching on a cell door and that the sergeant “gathered several officers and a large can of O.C. pepper spray and responded to TRS #114 to address the disturbance.”

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Feehan said he was told to get a hand-held camera but the incident took place before he returned. Jail surveillance video only showed jail personnel outside of Guglielmo’ cell.

Snyder testified that Guglielmo — then 57 years old, 5-feet, 10 inches tall and 155 pounds — took “threatening stances” before Snyder struck the inmate four times, including two to the left side of Guglielmo’s face.

One officer testified Snyder’s use of force lasted about five seconds, but plaintiffs said it was closer to 50 seconds based on security video footage.

Like face plant ‘at 90 miles an hour’

Dr. Paul Gabriel, chairman of Emergency Medicine at Grant Medical Center in Columbus, opined that the amount of force required to cause Guglielmo’s brain and facial injuries was not consistent with Snyder’s recollection of the incident:

“This is damage that you see when somebody face plants at 90 miles an hour,” Gabriel said. “This is damage that you see getting repeatedly struck by a baseball bat, not once, multiple, multiple times.

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“… This is massive. This is not subtle. This is a guy who almost died because of a massive acute bleed on his brain. So, no, could two blows do this? I don’t see any way under the realm in heaven that could occur.”

In his summary judgment ruling, Rose decided a reasonable juror could find Snyder’s use of force was unreasonable and that the other defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity on the claim they failed to intervene.

‘Persistent pattern of excessive force’

Corrections expert Michael Berg testified that there was a clear and persistent pattern of excessive force at the jail.

Berg reviewed 120 uses of force by the original named defendants and found that 71 involved excessive force. Plaintiffs said none led to discipline.

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Berg testified Snyder used force 31 times in 18 or so months at the jail with 29 involving excessive force.

Banks testified that Snyder “was very confrontational,” operated “in the gray,” did not follow policies and procedures and that Snyder “liked to show people who was in charge.”

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Seven lawsuits claiming inappropriate behavior of jail personnel have been settled since late 2017. At least 15 lawsuits have been filed in the past few years with several pending.

Amber Swink: $375,000, August 2017

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

Darryl Wallace: $58,000, November 2017

Emily Evans: $380,000, November 2017

Charles Wade: $115,000, January 2019

*Robert Richardson: $3.5 million, January 2019

**Joseph Guglielmo: Amount not yet publicly available, June 2019

* — No resolution voted on by county commissioners

** — An expert estimated Guglielmo will need about $5.3 million for his care