|Updated: 3/08/2013 9:19 am
||Published: 3/08/2013 8:15 am
A new Oklahoma Supreme Court decision could impact county jails and taxpayers across the state.
The court ruled Oklahomans do have a constitutional right to sue jails for use of excessive force.
The decision was based largely on a video from the Cherokee County Jail that shows a handcuffed man being severely injured by guards while handcuffed.
Daniel Bosh was arrested for unpaid court fines in September, 2011. Jailers claim Bosh was being argumentative, and even tried to spit on one of them.
The video then shows one of the guards slamming Bosh's head into a counter, then, with Bosh in a headlock, caused him to fall head first onto the floor.
Bosh shattered a vertebrae, and after major surgery still walks with a cane and continues to deal with tremendous pain.
"I still have to have my wife put on my socks and shoes for me, because I can't bend over that far," Bosh said.
Bosh was unable to meet in person for an interview, so FOX23 News talked to him on the phone.
"It's very frustrating. I don't know...you know, I can't provide for my family," Bosh said. "That makes me feel like less of a man."
Bosh filed a lawsuit against the jail and the guards later that year.
But they were protected from such lawsuits because of Oklahoma statutes.
"These people were protected by something the legislature had put in called the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act, which had provided immunity for certain people doing certain actions, as long as they were acting within their job," Mitchell Garrett, Bosh's attorney, said.
But this week the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in Bosh's favor.
"Their answer was basically that there is a constitutional right that Oklahoma citizens have to go after people that use excessive force against them," Garrett said.
The ruling only applies to people in jail who haven't been convicted of a crime. The court said the ruling could be applied retroactively, but only for those lawsuits filed since Bosh filed his in 2011.
"I don't think it'll open the door for a lot of lawsuits," Garrett said.
But not everyone agrees. Several counties and other state agencies have already appealed to the court, asking it to reconsider the decision.
Major Shannon Clark with the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office, which operates the Tulsa County Jail, worries the ruling opens the door for any inmate who didn't enjoy their experience in jail to try and sue.
"What worries us is that people may be reluctant to do their job or to respond to an attack because they're scared that that might be viewed as inappropriate," Clark said.
He also worries the ruling will discourage people from becoming detention officers, when there's already a state-wide shortage of people willing to take on the job.
But Garrett says rather than worrying about lawsuits and how guards approach their jobs, they should instead focus on not allowing incidents like Bosh's to happen.
"We believe by having the counties and the jails redoubling their efforts on training will keep everyone safe and will hopefully keep this type of incident from happening in the future," Garrett said.
Clark said more training for detention officers would be great, but there's no money available for such training.
He said most excessive force incidents happen when jails are understaffed. Therefore, he says, the best way to avoid cases like Bosh's is for the state to increase funding for jails so they can hire more guards.
County jails and governments in Oklahoma generally have very large insurance policies to cover liability lawsuits they may face. This ruling could force them to increase their coverage, the costs of which would likely be passed on to taxpayers.