Court: people can sue jails for use of excessive force

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Reported by: Ian Silver
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, 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.

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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of KOKI FOX23 - Tulsa

BrideyMurphy - 3/9/2013 10:43 PM
0 Votes
Wow, not to say there aren't a lot of people being abused or even killed while in police custody but this is going to be a mess for courts..and more court cases means more taxes or taxpayers....why can't cops just do their jobs the way they swear to when they take their oath and this crap wouldn't be necessary....I have seen so many video of people being hit and thrown around while handcuffed and 5 to 10 cops standing around watching, if you have someone handcuffed do they really present enough danger to warrant that kind of treatment, especially if you have half a dozen armed cops there to save you from the handcuffed female who weighs around 120# and has no weapon other than her mouth?

Unwashed Mass - 3/9/2013 12:36 PM
1 Vote
You gotta love the Sheriff's mouthpiece saying the fix for corrupt cops is to give them more money.... and the way to fight fires is to pour gasoline on them...

Geezer918 - 3/8/2013 2:09 PM
1 Vote
No one realizes the fact that Moss is a PRIVATELY RUN PRISON. If they are abusing inmates, they better be getting sued. We, the taxpayers, fund Corrections Corporation of America's (CCA) operations in this state. They even asked the state legislature for more money earlier this year under the guise of the Department of Corrections.

Unwashed Mass - 3/8/2013 10:36 AM
1 Vote
Anyone read about the man in NM who sat in jail for two years without a trial? The jail had the gall to say they did nothing wrong by forgetting him. Moss Jail only neglects prisoners for a few weeks at a time.

Unwashed Mass - 3/8/2013 10:33 AM
1 Vote
It's clear from Shannon Clark's comments that the county jail intends to dodge responsibility rather than clean up their act. It will be a big step forward when abuse victims can directly sue their abuser rather than the taxpayers.

kindagreywolf - 3/8/2013 10:07 AM
2 Votes
@Cattleokie? Are you freaking serious? Oklahoma cops throw people in jail for anything, everything and even make sh** up. Oklahoma treats everyone like animals than act horrified people behave like animals. You all need to get out of the dark ages. And what about Material Witnesses? There are three in Tulsa Jail I have heard, there only crime is they witnessed a crime. They are treated like Criminals until they help the state get there conviction. So they innocent people we treat like dogs should be abused to?

cattleokie - 3/8/2013 9:27 AM
1 Vote
COMMON SENSE,which most people DO NOT have any, DO NOT get in TROUBLE that you to be handcuffed,or be put in jail!!!!!!!!!
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