Jails, police not immune from civil-right suits, Oklahoma Supreme Court rules in jail-beating case
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Friday, February 15, 2013
2/15/13 at 7:25 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - A caught-on-video Cherokee County jail beating case has led the Oklahoma Supreme Court to say state law doesn't give county jails or police departments immunity from lawsuits for violations of constitutional rights.
In an official response to questions from U.S. District Judge James Payne, the court said this week that the state government tort claims act doesn't block suits alleging violation of constitutional rights.
"To do so would not only fail to conform to established precedent ... but would also render the Constitutional protections afforded the citizens of the state as ineffective and a nullity," Justice Yvonne Kauger wrote in the court's response, which was approved by the state court on a 7-2 vote.
Previously, the tort claims act had been read to effectively protect jails from all litigation, an attorney in the case said.
"It essentially left people without any remedy under state law for injury or excessive force or whatever committed by jailers," said attorney J. Spencer Bryan. "(The ruling) is going to fundamentally change the ability of victims of excessive force inside local jail facilities to actually vindicate those rights against counties."
The questions to the state's highest court stemmed from a federal suit concerning what happened in the Cherokee County jail on May 17, 2011. In its response, the court said it had very limited facts about the incident and few details but that it "appears" that jailers attacked Daniel Bosh while he was standing at the booking desk with his hands secured in restraints behind his back.
Jail video shows a jailer grab Bosh and slam his head into the booking desk, the response says.
"He then placed the detainee's head underneath his arm and deliberately fell backwards causing the detainee to strike the crown of his head on the floor," the response says. "Other jailers quickly joined the assault and moved the detainee to the showers, outside of the purview of video surveillance.
"The assault continued in other various off-camera locations for an undisclosed amount of time. Afterwards, the jailers let the detainee languish in his cell for two days before taking him to treatment at a Tulsa hospital."
Bosh suffered a fracture of his vertebrae and subsequently had to have several discs in his back surgically fused, the ruling says.
Bosh filed suit against the Cherokee County Governmental Building Authority and the case was moved to the federal court system.
Bryan, attorney for Bosh, said as a result of the ruling the case can move forward, but in the future, similar cases can be filed in state court.
Original Print Headline: Jails, police not immune from civil-right suits
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308