Taxpayers to pay for sheriff’s deputies’ beating of mentally ill inmate

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Taxpayers will foot the bill for the beating of a mentally ill inmate by Knox County Sheriff’s Office corrections officers, federal court records show.

A settlement in the $5 million civil-rights lawsuit filed against Knox County and five KCSO staffers in the November 2014 videotaped beating of Louis Flack was announced Monday in a conference with U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Shirley, according to a docket sheet in the file.

“The parties advised the court they had reached a settlement in this matter,” the docket sheet stated.

Flack’s attorney, Lance Baker, confirmed a settlement but did not release the amount.

Knox County Law Director Richard “Bud” Armstrong said the settlement won’t be finalized until motions on an earlier issue are resolved. He said he would release the settlement agreement once those motions are resolved and the deal finalized.

Baker said the settlement will allow Flack to continue to receive needed mental health treatment. An agreement on attorneys fees has not yet been reached, records show.

“It was a hard offer to turn down at this point,” Baker said. “Mr. Flack is very happy with the settlement. His family is happy with it. This amount ensures he can be taken care of and continue to receive the mental health treatment he needs for a very long time.”

Video of the beating shows Flack was in the throes of a psychotic break at the time of the incident. He also was clad in a lime green jumpsuit KCSO has designated for inmates with a history of mental illness, putting jailers on notice of the need to follow certain protocols, including the summoning of a mental health counselor.

No such counselor was summoned in Flack’s case.

Instead, the videotape showed officers stormed into Flack’s cell when he refused to place his hands through a slot to be handcuffed. He was thrown to the floor and, while facedown and his legs immobilized, punched and repeatedly kneed in the back.

One of the deputies, Nicholas Breeden, is shown on the videotape punching Flack after he was handcuffed. He was later fired and charged with assault and official misconduct, but Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones took no action against Breeden or the other officers for nearly three months and only after WBIR-TV learned about the video and sought its release.

Christopher Fustos, the officer shown repeatedly kneeing Flack while he was facedown but before he was handcuffed, was not charged or fired. He was suspended for two days and has since filed a lawsuit against the county, saying he was unfairly treated.

Cpl. David Sparkes, who ordered the intrusion into Flack’s cell, narrated the video, watched the beating and later is shown grabbing Flack by his hair and pulling his head upward as a nurse treated Flack, was suspended for five days. Officer Jesse Rudd, who held Flack down, resigned before the video was made public. Officer Spencer Solomon, who also held Flack down, was not punished.

Flack has a long history of mental illness and was being held in the Roger D. Wilson Detention Facility on Maloneyville Road on an assault charge involving a relative. That charge was later dismissed.

Armstrong opted to use outside counsel to represent all the officers except Breeden, who has a private attorney, so taxpayers also will pay for that representation.

 

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