A $10.25 million verdict rendered Monday in the Elliott Williams federal civil rights trial should serve as a “wakeup call” for the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office and its former sheriff, an attorney for Williams’ estate said.
“I just hope that the county takes it seriously and they do something,” said Dan Smolen, an attorney for the Williams estate.
Williams was naked and paralyzed when he died on the floor in a cell in the Tulsa Jail’s medical unit on Oct. 27, 2011, following a six-day stay.
An eight-person jury deliberated for about 10 hours over two days before finding that Williams’ civil rights were violated by the Sheriff’s Office and Stanley Glanz, who was sheriff when Williams died.
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Specifically, the jury found against the Sheriff’s Office and Glanz in his individual capacity, ordering payment of $10 million in compensatory damages to the Williams estate.
The jury also ordered Glanz, who was sued in his private capacity, to pay $250,000 in punitive damages. He was the only defendant subject to the punitive damages claim.
Defense attorney Guy Fortney, who represented Glanz and the Sheriff’s Office, said he is surprised and disappointed by the verdict.
Fortney said he will be meeting with the current sheriff in the coming days to discuss options going forward, including a possible appeal to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Both Glanz and Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado declined to comment Monday.
Regalado, who was not a Tulsa County employee at the time of Williams’ death, was sued in his official capacity as a representative of the Sheriff’s Office.
Smolen hailed the jury’s decision.
“I think that they came to the conclusion that any jury in this case would come to: that Elliott Williams needed justice; his family needed justice. And they have that today, and they can kind of move past this now,” Smolen said.
Kevin Williams, Elliott Williams’ brother, said he was satisfied with the jury’s decision, but he called for criminal charges to be filed.
“No amount of money is going to bring him back,” Kevin Williams said of his brother. “People need to be going to jail. There needs to be criminal charges filed.”
The jury found that the county was “indifferent” to Williams when he was in jail and also to “problems that have existed in the jail for decades,” Smolen said.
The estate had sought $51 million in compensatory damages from Glanz and the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, who were accused of being deliberately indifferent to Williams’ medical needs. In explaining their rationale for the amount requested, attorneys for Williams’ estate said they wanted $1 million for every hour the inmate lay paralyzed and covered in his own excrement in the cell where he died.
An autopsy report found that Williams died from complications of a broken neck and exhibited signs of dehydration.
A surveillance camera that medical staff attempted to use to prove whether Williams was faking his paralysis captured video of the 51 hours he lay helpless on the floor of the cell, and an edited portion of the footage was shown to jurors during the trial. The video shows food trays being tossed on the floor at his feet and a cup of water being placed on the floor out of his reach.
The jury, composed of four men and four women, deliberated about two hours Friday afternoon after listening to closing arguments on the 18th day of the trial. Jurors chose to break for the weekend and resumed their deliberations at 9 a.m. Monday.
Williams arrived at the jail Oct. 21, 2011, following an altercation with Owasso police. According to testimony and court records, Williams suffered a “mental breakdown” stemming from his separation from his wife and his mother’s cancer diagnosis. Owasso officers pepper-sprayed and arrested the 37-year-old man on an obstruction complaint when he reportedly took a step toward them and said he wanted to be shot.
Police initially booked Williams into the Owasso Jail but soon transferred him to the county lockup in Tulsa with the expectation that he would receive proper treatment. Rather than undergoing the jail’s screening process or a mental health assessment, however, Williams was placed in a holding cell because he had been “acting up,” Glanz previously testified.
Multiple theories have been brought forward on how Williams became injured, but Sheriff’s Office officials insist that he broke his own neck when he rammed his head into the holding cell door. Williams then repeatedly told staff he couldn’t move his legs, and he eventually was taken to the medical unit, even though nurses and detention officers thought he was faking his condition. The level of care he received while in the medical unit has been hotly debated.
Glanz and the Sheriff’s Office denied that there was any deliberate indifference on their part, noting that county employees relied upon the advice of the jail’s contracted medical provider, whose employees said Williams might be faking his injuries.
Williams’ estate filed the civil rights lawsuit in Tulsa federal court on Nov. 17, 2011. The lawsuit was later amended to name Glanz, the Sheriff’s Office, Correctional Healthcare Management Inc., unnamed Owasso police officers, and named employees of both the medical provider and the Sheriff’s Office.
Prior to the trial, the estate reached an undisclosed settlement with Correctional Healthcare Management Inc., and the other individuals were dismissed from the lawsuit.
Source : http://www.citizentribune.com/news/national/update-jury-awards-million-to-elliott-williams-estate-after-his/article_a869e62e-a11c-5277-b731-618a63a113a4.html