Cocke County loses jail certification, garners lawsuit over 32-year-old inmate’s death

Myra Burgin is suing the Cocke County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Armando Fontes over the September 2016 death of her daughter, Amanda Lee Hill, 32, while held in the Cocke County Jail on a misdemeanor probation violation charge. Wochit

Amanda Lee Hill survived being kidnapped, beaten and her body set afire, but just a month later, she wound up dead in a Cocke County Jail cell.

The same Cocke County leaders who, records show, for two years have failed to fix problems in its jail facilities, including proper medical treatment for inmates, are now facing a federal wrongful death lawsuit in Hill’s death. If they lose, taxpayers will foot the bill.

The Cocke County Courthouse Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. Cocke County Jail is on the top floor of the courthouse and the jail annex is directly across the street and railroad tracks. (Photo: Michael Patrick/News Sentinel)

Wrongful death lawsuit

Attorney Lance K. Baker Knoxville attorney Lance Baker is pictured in an undated photo. (Photo: submitted)

Hill, a diabetic, was booked into the Cocke County Jail on a probation violation just two weeks after she was released from the Vanderbilt Medical Center burn unit in September 2016. Two days later, she was found dead in her jail cell. She was 32 years old.

Knoxville attorney Lance Baker has filed on behalf of Hill’s mother, Myra Burgin, a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Cocke County Sheriff Armando Fontes, jail administrator Tommy Large, nurse Vicki Campbell, supervisor Tiffany Ball and a slew of jailers, including two fired earlier this year and under investigation by the FBI for using excessive force on prisoners.

Knoxville attorney Lance Baker is pictured in an undated photo. (Photo: submitted)
The lawsuit comes as the Tennessee Corrections Institute last month voted to decertify Cocke County’s jail annex after two years of failed inspections and warnings about lax employee training, staffing shortages, inadequate medical care and safety violations, records show. The Cocke County Commission has turned aside funding requests to fix the problems.

TCI has no power to shut down a jail, but the loss of certification means the state won’t pay for the care of state prisoners housed there.

County Sheriff Fontes, who did not return a call for comment, said at a recent public meeting he was working to clear out state prisoners. The county relies on the money it makes from housing state prisoners whose crimes were committed in Cocke County to fund jail operations because the state rate outpaces the actual cost. That money is now gone unless the jail can regain certification.

Missing records, ignored cries alleged

Attorney Baker contends state cash isn’t the only thing missing in Cocke County. He alleges in the lawsuit records about Hill’s fatal incarceration at the jail have also “disappeared.”

Hill’s boyfriend allegedly kidnapped, beat and doused her body in rubbing alcohol, setting her on fire, in early September 2016. He was charged. She spent two weeks at the Vanderbilt Medical Center burn unit. She was prescribed opiate painkillers, and her wounds still required cleaning and daily bandaging, according to the lawsuit.

The Sheriff’s office inside the Cocke County Courthouse Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. Cocke County Jail is on the top floor of the courthouse and the jail annex is directly across the street and railroad tracks.  (Photo: Michael Patrick/News Sentinel)

On Sept. 26, 2016, she wound up arrested on a probation violation warrant. Jailers already knew Hill was a diabetic. She had been administered insulin during a 2015 stint in the jail and suffered seizures because of problems with the dosage, the lawsuit stated.

The lawsuit said Cocke County Sheriff’s Office Detective Jason Ramsey, who knew Hill was still suffering from her burn injuries, set out to try to get her transferred to a state prison geared for prisoners with medical conditions. She died before he could, the lawsuit stated.

Meanwhile, her mother and other relatives went to the jail after her arrest to make sure she was receiving insulin and medical care and were assured she was “fine,” the lawsuit stated.

Witnesses, including jailers, are quoted in the lawsuit as saying Hill instead was screaming in pain and her body showing signs of severe dehydration and diabetic shock. The lawsuit alleges supervisor Ball and nurse Campbell called Hill a “junkie” suffering withdrawals and ignored her. Administrator Large, the lawsuit stated, had the same reaction to Hill’s cries for help. Campbell eventually gave her a shot of Phenergan, a sedative, the lawsuit stated.

Fired jailers, failed inspections

Jailers Jason Phillips and Alyssa Lane found Hill on the floor of her cell just two days after she was booked into the jail. The lawsuit alleges Hill was already dead, but Phillips and Lane lied, later saying she was semi-conscious. It didn’t matter. The lawsuit stated the jail did not have required medical equipment necessary to try to revive an unconscious person, and Hill was officially declared dead upon arrival at a hospital.

The sheriff recently fired Phillips and Lane for what he termed the use of excessive force on inmates. He said the FBI was investigating. He gave no further details. The FBI will not confirm ongoing investigations, per its policy.

Cocke County Jail annex in Newport with prisoners being moved across the street to court in the Cocke County Courthouse Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. The jail in on the top floor of the courthouse and the jail annex is directly across the street and railroad tracks. (Photo: Michael Patrick/News Sentinel)

An autopsy concluded Hill died from a cocktail of drugs in her system, including the opiates she had been prescribed by Vanderbilt, the Phenergan administered by nurse Campbell and methamphetamine. None of the three drugs alone would have killed her at the levels found in her system.

“This finding prompted the medical examiner to list Ms. Hill’s cause of death as acute combined drug overdose,” Baker wrote.

There is no evidence she used methamphetamine before her arrival at the jail, and the lawsuit stated at least two of the six jailers Sheriff Fontes has fired recently for smuggling opiates and meth into the jail for prisoners encountered Hill before her death.

The autopsy also concluded Hill was severely dehydrated and showing signs of diabetic ketoacidosis, a potentially fatal condition caused by insulin deficiency.

Immunity threatened

Government leaders and employees are often shielded from legal responsibility by immunity laws, but TCI’s repeated notices to Cocke County leaders of critical deficiencies in the care of inmates could pierce it.

The sheriff told Cocke County commissioners who showed up for a September committee meeting that TCI’s findings and decertification would be used as evidence against him, his staff and the county in civil-rights lawsuits, according to records.

Cocke County Mayor Crystal Ottinger did not respond to a request for comment.

Cocke County, Sheriff named in federal suit after inmate death

GREENEVILLE—One year ago, Amanda Hill, 32, Newport, was found dead in a jail cell while serving time for a violation of probation charge.
A year later, her mother has filed a lawsuit against Cocke County, Cocke County Sheriff Armando Fontes and other Cocke County Jail staff members seeking $10 million in damages, alleging wrongful death and a series of violation of civil rights.

The 70-page lawsuit alleges, Hill, who was incarcerated at the Cocke County Jail in September 2016, was a type 1 diabetic and she was recovering from second and third degree burns when she did not receive proper medical attention by former correction officers and the former jail nurse which resulted in Hill’s death.
Hill was found dead in her jail cell on Sept. 28, 2016 and now her family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Cocke County Sheriff Armando Fontes and Cocke County Jail employees, along with the Cocke County government.

Scott County Sheriff Perpetuates Cover Up of Inmates Cause-of-Death

In the wake of a civil rights/wrongful death action charging Scott County, Scott County Sheriff Ronnie Phillips, Scott County Sheriff’s Office employees, and a heath-services contractor with, among other atrocities, failing to provide adequate medical care over a two-week period to an inmate suffering from a massive MRSA infection that proved fatal (http://www.lbakerlawfirm.com/blog/), Phillips has
taken to the media in an attempt to defend his officers’ actions and inaction.

Speaking to the Independent Herald, Phillips stated that former inmate Shane Pemberton was “not denied any kind of treatment” and that “Sheriff’s Department personnel believe Pemberton died from a brain aneurysm.”

On Thursday, Pemberton’s attorney, Lance Baker of Knoxville, responded, stating:

“contrary to the final autopsy report, Phillips’ own Chief Detective had claimed that needle-marks on Mr. Pemberton’s arms showed that he died from a drugrelated cause. It now appears that Phillips has retracted this unmerited claim. Yet, Phillips’ latest statements are also flatly-contradicted by hundreds of pages of medical records released by  two hospitals and by the final autopsy report of Knox County Chief Medical Examiner, Darinka Mileusnic.”

Baker says, medically speaking, the autopsy revealed that Pemberton’s death was caused by an infection that, by the time Scott County officers found him comatose on the floor of a cell, had “spread to every major organ in his body, including his heart and brain.” In a statement, Baker emphasized that Dr. Mileusnic’s report described Pemberton’s brain as having “massive bacterial colonies.” Not only was his death not caused by a “brain aneurysm,” as Phillips now suggests, but one medical professional examined Pemberton and observed, “it would have taken days to get that amount of infection all over the body.”

Phillips’ office also claims that Pemberton went through a thorough “medical screening” at the jail. Whether that is true – and again, Baker says that it is not – Phillips tip-toes around important issues involving Pemberton’s two-week incarceration that ended in his death. For example, Baker says that Phillips does not explain why that, as the infection was spreading through Pemberton’s body, and he was exhibiting tell-tale signs and symptoms of a serious medical problem (for instance, he could not walk or stand on his own), no one noticed the severity of his illness. And if they did, Baker asks, “why did they not send him to a hospital, where his life could have been saved with IV-antibiotics and aggressive treatment?”

Finally, Baker’s statement says that as bad as Pemberton’s in-jail treatment was, once he was found comatose, Phillips’ officers acted irresponsibly, waiting needlessly to call E-911 until Pemberton was “cleaned up” by other inmates and making at least four telephone calls to obtain “instructions” from supervisors. Then, Baker says, “Phillips’ officers not only misinformed medical professionals
about Pemberton’s condition and the events leading up to his death, but they also doctored jail-records to cover-up their misdeeds.”

“We look forward to having our day in Court, where we expect to prove, by medical and other testimony, that the actions of all of the defendants in this case substantially contributed to Mr. Pemberton’s death,” Baker said.

Wrongful Death Lawsuit filed against Scott County, Sheriff

The mother of a former inmate at the Scott County Jail has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Scott County, Sheriff Ronnie Phillips, and several employees of the Scott County Sheriff’s Office claiming their lack of medical care led to the death of her son.

On July 20, 2017, Donna Jean Sexton-Pemberton, the mother of the late Benny Shane Pemberton, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Knoxville.  In the 58-page complaint, Pemberton alleges that employees of the Scott County Jail and Advanced Correctional Healthcare, Inc, the third-party provider of healthcare services at the jail, failed to provide adequate medical care to her son, which led to his untimely death.

In the indictment-style lawsuit penned by Knoxville attorney Lance K. Baker of the The Baker Law Firm in Knoxville, Pemberton is seeking up to $10 million in compensatory and punitive damages.  The complaint not only claims wrongful death, but alleges that the Sheriff and his staff violated her son’s civil rights and their outrageous conduct led to infliction of emotional distress.

According to the complaint, Pemberton was incarcerated in the Scott County Jail on July 6, 2016 on an outstanding Florida warrant for failure to pay child support.  Two weeks later, the 41-year-old was declared brain dead at University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville.  During his incarceration, the suit alleges that the jail failed to provide proper medical care for Pemberton, who was post mortem diagnosed with Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA).

In the lawsuit, the family claims the infection started in a deep cut on Pemberton’s left foot.  From there, the infection traveled up his left leg, ultimately affecting multiple organs, including his brain.  Pemberton’s family claims that the medical staff at the jail failed to properly diagnose and treat the infection.  Furthermore, they claim Pemberton’s plea for medical assistance fell on deaf ears, as correction’s officers attributed his outward physical duress to withdrawal symptoms from chemical dependency.  Pemberton’s mother admits that her son was a drug addict.

Hours before his death, the lawsuit says Pemberton was found in a comatose state in an isolation cell lying naked in his own excrement and urine.  The family contends that the infection had attacked his brain, leading to organ failure.  Even in that condition, the lawsuit claims that correction officers failed to contact emergency medical personnel, instead directing two jail trusties to clean Pemberton up and place him in a chair.  Eventually, correction officers, when prompted by a local physician contacted by a jail employee, called for assistance.  When employees from the Scott County Ambulance Service arrived, they reportedly performed CPR on Pemberton, and revived him.  He was transported to North Knoxville Medical Center.  There, a physician reportedly diagnosed him with, among other things, an intra-cranial hemorrhage and cardiac arrest.  Due to the severity of his condition, Pemberton was transported from there to University of Tennessee Medical Center, where a neurosurgeon performed an emergency surgery, opening Pemberton’s skull to alleviate cranial pressure.  Shortly thereafter, medical personnel declared him brain dead.

An autopsy performed on July 22, 2016 reportedly found that Pemberton died of septic MRSA, which led to necrosis in multiple organs and tissues.

After being booked in the jail, Pemberton reportedly complained of excruciating pain in his left leg.  Later, his medical condition allegedly deteriorated to the point he could no longer care for himself, relying on other inmates and corrections officers to assist him with simple, everyday tasks like showering.  Near the time of his death, Pemberton was described as bed ridden and unable to care for himself.

The lawsuit claims that corrections officers and employees of Advanced Correctional Healthcare did nothing to help Pemberton.  Instead of providing medical care, the family claims that Pemberton was placed in an isolation cell, referred to in the lawsuit as “the hole”, on at least two occasions to limit his contact with other inmates and jail personnel.  Pemberton’s family asserts that a nurse at the jail refused medical care, allegedly saying “Oh, as long as it doesn’t’ go to your heart, you’ll be fine.”  The lawsuit also claims corrections officers mocked Pemberton, laughing at him.

Days after his death, Pemberton says she met with Chief Detective Randy Lewallen, who stated there would not be an investigation into her son’s death.  “Right there’s what happened to that boy,” Lewallen allegedly told Pemberton as he pointed to the preliminary autopsy report.  Pemberton says Lewallen asserted her son’s death was the result of his drug addiction.  “All of his problems were caused by his needle marks…,” Pemberton claims Lewallen said.

Pemberton’s mother states that jail personnel refused to talk to her about the circumstances leading up to his death.  Shortly after his death, she turned to Facebook, looking for answers from inmates and others that may have had contact with him.  In response, Pemberton claims she was contacted by Chief Deputy Tommy Silcox, who stated he would talk to her about her son’s death, provided she remove the Facebook post.  Pemberton claims she took the Facebook post down, but no one at the jail ever talked to her.

In support of their claim, the family also cites two other recently filed lawsuits alleging inadequate medical care at the jail led to ongoing health problems to former inmates.  In June, Jesse Perry filed a lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office and the County claiming he contracted tuberculosis inside the jail.  In March, former inmate Tammy Brawner filed suit claiming inadequate medical care led to her having seizures that has caused irreversible brain damage.   The latter case has been set for trial on January 8, 2019.

Suit accuses Scott County, sheriff of neglect in inmate’s

A Scott County woman accuses the Scott County Sheriff’s Office of ignoring her son’s repeated pleas for medical treatment in jail as an infection gradually took over his body, ultimately destroying his brain and killing him.

Donna Jean Sexton-Pemberton filed the document in U.S. District Court in Knoxville on July 20.

She seeks up to $5 million in compensatory and in punitive damages and a jury trial.

10News sought but did not receive comment from Sheriff Ronnie Phillips about the lawsuit. On Monday, he told the station that in general inmates have the services of qualified medical personnel on hand if they become ill.

Benny Shane Pemberton, 41, was taken into custody July 6, 2016, on a warrant for failure to pay child support in Florida, according to the lawsuit. It  states he had a deep cut to his left foot that became grossly infected over two weeks as he was held in the Scott County jail.

The document also acknowledges Pemberton had been a drug abuser.

Soon after entering the jail, infection from the cut in his left foot spread through his body, according to the lawsuit. His illness developed into MRSA, a sometimes deadly bacteria that’s highly resistant to treatment.

The document does not allege Pemberton contracted MRSA from the jail.

Pemberton begged jail staff including deputies for help, the lawsuit alleges, but his pleas were ignored.

At times other inmates tried to get help on his behalf, the lawsuit filed by Knoxville lawyer Lance Baker states.

At one point, jail staff became so tired of hearing him asking for help that he was moved to an isolation cell known as “The Hole,” according to the lawsuit.

Sheriff Phillips said Monday the cell, with typical amenities such as a commode, is set aside for inmates who may have a medical condition or may have problems getting along with other inmates.

Pemberton spent a week in the isolation cell before being returned to more general quarters, according to the lawsuit.

By July 20, the inmate’s health was failing so badly that he was found lying naked and comatose in a cell floor in his own excrement and urine, according to the suit. His hands and fingers showed signs of gangrene and his body was covered with abscesses, cuts, bruises and abrasions.

A deputy found Pemberton unconscious in the cell, the lawsuit states. After debating what help to get him, authorities ultimately called a doctor who advised them to take Pemberton to the hospital, the mother alleges.

According to the lawsuit, some personnel tried to cover up the truth behind the inmate’s deteriorating condition.

He first was treated at North Knoxville Medical Center before being moved to University of Tennessee Medical Center. Doctors there thought he’d been assaulted, according to the lawsuit.

The document states Sheriff’s Office personnel had misstated and withheld from medical personnel the inmate’s true medical problems. Doctors at the medical center determined his brain was no longer functional due to the infection, and he died the afternoon of July 20.

“From the minute he was processed and booked at the Scott County jail, Mr. Pemberton’s complaints of pain and request for medical attention were altogether disregarded by corrections officers and jail nurses,” the lawsuit states.

Within the last year, the lawsuit states, two other inmates also have complained about suffering poor health because jail personnel failed to respond to their requests for help, according to the lawsuit.

Defendants named in the lawsuit including the sheriff, various Sheriff’s Office personnel and Advanced Correctional Healthcare Inc., which provided medical staff for the jail’s health care.

Attorney says excessive force lawsuit against Alcoa, Blount County ‘could have been avoided’

A $2 million excessive force lawsuit pending against the city of Alcoa and Blount County government would have been unnecessary if law enforcement had recognized obvious mental health issues and provided appropriate care, the attorney who filed the suit said this week.

Knoxville attorney Lance Baker told The Daily Times on Friday that his client, 38-year-old Maryville resident Annissa Mary Lee Colson, was showing obvious signs of a panic attack following her arrest nearly two years ago.

Alcoa officers and Blount County deputies not only showed complete disregard for her condition, Baker said, but assaulted and tormented her. The officers and deputies involved have denied any wrongdoing.

It began when Alcoa officers were called to Springbrook Road on June 23, 2015, when Colson’s then 10-year-old son fled her SUV.

The child told officers Colson had been drinking at Springbrook Pool. She began speeding when they left, causing him to pull the emergency brake and flee the vehicle in fear, according to police reports.

Colson crashed her SUV while chasing after the child and was placed under arrest. She was taken to Blount Memorial Hospital after agreeing to take a blood alcohol test. Once there, however, she changed her mind. That’s when the chain of events leading to the lawsuit really begin, Baker said.

‘Two Cases’

“We don’t dispute what happened prior to her arrest,” Baker said. “(But) you have to segregate the two cases. So really, our case begins when Ms. Colson arrives at the hospital.”

Police say Colson became belligerent and combative when instructed to get back into the cruiser. The lawsuit states Colson suffers from anxiety and had a severe panic attack.

Alcoa Officers Dustin Cook and Arik Wilson are accused of ignoring signs of mental distress and refusing to give her time to catch her breath.

A struggle to put her back in the cruiser ensued, and Colson’s knee was reportedly injured. Baker said it happened when Wilson applied pressure to the area. Colson suffered a broken bone and tears in two ligaments as a result, Baker said.

Instead of wrestling with Colson, the officers should have recognized her distress and checked her into the hospital, Baker said.

“One of our essential arguments is that the officers were not trained well enough to appreciate what was really going on with Ms. Colson,” Baker said. “I think they mistook her panic disorders and anxiety, which was triggered by the arrest, as someone that’s being combative for combative sake.”

Once at the Blount County jail, Colson was tormented and abused by Blount County deputies, according to the lawsuit. It included Colson being strapped in a restraint chair for several hours, Baker said.

“She’s placed in a restraint chair for approximately seven hours without water, without any bathroom breaks whatsoever,” Baker said. “She’s forced to urinate on herself while both male and female officers laugh, essentially … it’s just not right and it’s just an egregious and inhumane way to treat someone, even inmates.”

Incompetence Alleged

Wilson and Cook are both named in the suit, which was filed last June in Knoxville’s U.S. District Court. Alcoa Police Lt. Keith Fletcher, former Alcoa Police Chief Philip Potter, Blount County Sheriff James Berrong, Blount County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Mandy England and Jennifer Russell, a nurse contracted to work at the Blount County jail, are also defendants.

Russell is accused of performing a shoddy examination of Colson’s knee when she was brought into the jail. Reports and police video of the arrest show Russell cleared her of any serious injuries.

“There’s no other word I can think of to describe Jennifer Russell’s treatment of Ms. Colson other than just pure incompetence,” Baker said. “She had no business being in that facility giving medical attention to anyone. Ms. Colson needed a real medical professional at that point in time, and that’s not what she got.”

Baker said Colson only recently was able to undergo surgery on her knee to repair the damage.

Responses have been filed on behalf of all defendants, except Russell, denying they did anything illegal or unnecessary. Russell filed a motion in November asking the case be dismissed. A decision on that motion has not been made.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Leon Jordan granted a request to throw out some of the claims levied against Berrong.

Baker still contends the whole thing could have been avoided.

“All they had to do was recognize that there’s something not right, it’s not just her being combative,” Baker said. “If they just would have checked her into the hospital and had a medical professional, or a nurse, check her out, I think this whole thing could have been avoided.”

Colson pleaded guilty in October to charges of DUI, reckless endangerment and resisting arrest. She was also charged with assaulting an officer, but it was dismissed as part of a plea agreement.

Attorney says excessive force lawsuit against Alcoa, Blount County ‘could have been avoided’

The Daily Times

A $2 million excessive force lawsuit pending against the city of Alcoa and Blount County government would have been unnecessary if law enforcement had recognized obvious mental health issues and provided appropriate care, the attorney who filed the suit said this week.

Knoxville attorney Lance Baker told The Daily Times on Friday that his client, 38-year-old Maryville resident Annissa Mary Lee Colson, was showing obvious signs of a panic attack following her arrest nearly two years ago.

— Read More —

Inmate’s attorney, law department trade written blows in beating lawsuit

flack-louis3-e1424728118227With the taxpayer meter running, opposing attorneys in the case of a videotaped beating of a mentally ill Knox County jail inmate are bloodying each other in the battle over legal fees.

Taxpayers have already forked out $200,000 for the actions of Knox County Sheriff’s Office employees in the November 2014 beating of inmate Louis Flack Jr.

But the tab for taxpayers in what the Knox County Law Director’s Office admitted was a violation of Flack’s civil rights is still running with a legal fight between Flack’s attorney, Lance Baker, and Deputy Law Director David Wigler over how much Baker and others on Flack’s legal team should receive for their work on the case.

In recent filings in U.S. District Court, the battle has turned ugly.

“What a gift for a young lawyer!” Wigler wrote in suggesting Baker, his paralegal and two assisting attorneys are charging “exorbitant” fees for what Wigler contends was a slam­dunk case.

Baker, in turn, accuses Wigler and the KCSO of adding to the expense of the case by playing hide­and­seek with documents before a settlement was reached and of “stonewalling, disinformation, misrepresentation, feigned ignorance, and a complete lack of cooperation” by Wigler after a deal was struck.

Baker seeks roughly $114,000 in legal fees and expenses for himself and his team.

Video showed Flack, clearly identified as mentally ill by the jumpsuit assigned him, was in the throes of a psychotic break when KCSO staffers stormed his cell, threw him facedown on the concrete floor and beat and kicked him even after he was fully restrained. More abuse of Flack was captured on video after the assault, with Cpl. David Sparkes grabbing Flack by his hair and pulling his head up as a nurse treated Flack, even though the inmate was not struggling with the nurse and still remained in a psychotic state.

Baker had been appointed to represent Flack in Knox County General Sessions Court in a domestic assault case, which was later dropped when — nearly three months after the incident — the video surfaced and Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones was forced to publicly acknowledge the beating. Jones fired Deputy Nicholas Breeden, who can be seen on video punching Flack after he was restrained, suspended Sparkes for five days and suspended jailer Christopher Fustos, who kicked and kneed the restrained inmate, for two days. Breeden faces trial on official misconduct and assault charges in the Flack incident.

Baker learned of the video of his client via WBIR­TV, which first aired it in January 2015. Records show he agreed to pursue a lawsuit on behalf of Flack under what’s known as a contingency arrangement in which the lawyer would not be paid for time and expenses unless Flack won money. Wigler contends the video all but forced the county to admit wrongdoing, so there was little legal fight when Baker filed the civil­rights lawsuit in November 2015.

“Indeed, Knox County never denied liability,” he wrote.

But Baker contends the KCSO refused to turn over public records and did not disclose a second video that was longer than the one aired publicly, far more detailed and included audio when Baker was trying to investigate the incident in anticipation of filing a lawsuit. He said in his motion that added to his work and his bill for it.

Knox County offered Flack $100,000 soon after the lawsuit was filed. Baker rejected that. Four months later, in March, the county offered $200,000 for Flack. Baker accepted it. But the issue of legal fees remained.

With the ink still wet on the settlement, another fight broke out between Wigler and Baker over exactly what had been agreed to in terms of legal fees, including whether Baker should take a financial hit for releasing that second video to the media while the lawsuit was pending.

“What transpired over the next 3 months (was) a series of actions that included stonewalling, disinformation, misrepresentation, feigned ignorance and a complete lack of cooperation by the Law Director’s Office (that) threatened to unravel the settlement,” Baker wrote.

Wigler denies that and says Baker was stalling so Knox County would drop its demands for sanctions over the release of the second video and should not be allowed to bill taxpayers for that.

“As it turned out, Mr. Baker was essentially holding up his client’s settlement for over three months to avoid responding to the pending motion for sanctions,” Wigler wrote.

Wigler said Knox County has offered Baker $35,000 in legal fees and expenses.

A judge will decide how much taxpayers should pay for Flack’s legal representation. Taxpayers also will have to pay for a private attorney the law department hired to represent the individual officers, except Breeden. A cost for that has not been made public yet.

Jamie Satterfield, Knoxville News Sentinel, September, 5, 2016.

State Farm Policyholders Win Class Cert. In $1B RICO Suit

State Farm Policyholders Win Class Cert. In $1B RICO Suit

Law360, Los Angeles (September 16, 2016, 11:38 PM EDT) — An Illinois federal judge Friday certified a class of State Farm policyholders who had filed a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act suit against the insurer and several others that allegedly funneled money into a state judge’s election campaign to evade payment of a $1 billion judgment.

LexisNexis: Mark Hale, Todd Shadle, and Laurie Loger, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs, v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company

 

 

 

Alcoa officers, Blount deputies targeted in police brutality suits

KNOXVILLE — A Knoxville attorney is taking law enforcement in Alcoa and Blount County to federal court for a combined $8.25 million, claiming his clients were victims of excessive force and policy brutality when they were arrested within two weeks of one another last June.

Attorney Lance K. Baker has filed two separate lawsuits in Knoxville’s U.S. District Court, one over the arrest of a 67-year-old former businessman who was a hit-and-run suspect; the other on behalf of a 36-year-old single mother booked on charges of DUI, assaulting an officer, resisting arrest and felony reckless endangerment.

The two Maryville residents suffered from mental or cognitive disorders and were victims of law enforcement brutality, according to the lawsuits.

The first lawsuit, filed June 10, stems from the arrest a year earlier of Larry Glen Hodge at the hands of BCSO deputies. The Blount County government, Blount County Sheriff James Lee Berrong and several deputies are defendants in the $6.25 million suit.

As Hodge died in December, the litigation was filed on behalf of Hodge’s widow, Judy R. Hodge.

Deputy Accused of Going ‘Rogue’

Hodge, who suffered from advanced vascular dementia, was arrested after the side mirror of his pickup collided with the side mirror of another vehicle on a narrow section of Russell Hollow Road, the suit states. About 45 minutes later, he was pulled over and arrested by BCSO Deputy Henry Vaughn, a property and evidence technician who had not been a patrol deputy since 2006, according to the suit.

t the time of the stop, Vaughn was driving an unmarked vehicle and dressed in green camouflage pants and a “Polo-type shirt,” according to the suit. Vaughn parked his unmarked truck alongside Hodge’s, the suit states, before going “rogue,” pulling a gun on Hodge and demanding he exit the vehicle.

Vaughn is then accused of pulling Hodge out of the vehicle when the 67-year-old was slow to react, throwing him to the ground and assaulting him.

“Vaughn suddenly grabbed Mr. Hodge by the wrist and shirt collar, violently jerked him out of his truck and flung Mr. Hodge hard and face-first to the pavement,” the complaint reads. “(Vaughn) punched at Mr. Hodge, twisted Mr. Hodge’s arms behind his back and cuffed his wrists behind his back, all while Mr. Hodge lay in a prone position, bleeding profusely from his head, face and nose.”

The suit states Vaughn had a history of using excessive force, and in 2005 was convicted of assaulting a female neighbor while off duty. The suit also states Blount County government attorney Craig Garrett confirmed Vaughn, as an evidence technician, does not normally respond to patrol calls.

The BCSO, including several supervisors named in the suit, are accused of conducting a sham investigation and failing to discipline Vaughn.

In addition to Vaughn, Berrong and Blount County, the following BCSO personnel are also defendants in the suit: Deputy Kevin Clendenen, Detective Doug Davis, Lt. Doug Moore, Capt. Jeff Clark, Deputy Chief Ron Talbott and Deputy Chief James Long.

Blount County General Sessions Court records show Hodge was facing charges of leaving the scene of an accident and resisting arrest. They were dismissed in January following his death, court records show.

The lawsuit states Hodge’s physical and mental condition declined following the arrest, and contributed to his death six months later.

Alcoa Arrest

The second lawsuit, filed June 23, is also targeting Blount County and Berrong, along with several BCSO corrections officers, the City of Alcoa, Alcoa Police Chief Philip Potter and several Alcoa officers.

Stemming from the June 23, 2015, arrest of then 36-year-old Annissa Mary Lee Colson, the $2 million suit alleges Colson was brutalized and tormented by Alcoa officers BCSO jailers.

Colson was arrested on charges of assaulting an officer, resisting arrest, DUI and felony reckless endangerment, in addition to being cited on charges of violating the implied consent law, violation of the due care law and registration violation.

Her case is still pending in Blount County General Sessions Court, with another hearing currently scheduled for July 7. She remains free on bonds totaling $5,5000.

Child Fled

Colson’s arrest came after her then 10-year-old son fled from her vehicle in the area of Springbrook Road and North Wright Road around 7:30 p.m., according to the lawsuit and a prior police report.

The 10-year-old told officers his mother had been drinking at Springbrook Pool and began speeding down the road when they left, according to the police report.

The child said he got scared and pulled the emergency brake, causing the vehicle to stop, police said. He told officers he jumped out of the vehicle, a black Toyota RAV4, and took off running.

The first officer to arrive reported seeing Colson’s vehicle driving through the field toward the wood line where her son was standing. Colson then lost control and ran into a ditch line, where the SUV came to rest on an embankment, the report said.

The lawsuit states Colson wrecked her vehicle into a ditch while trying to retrieve her son.

Police said Colson smelled of alcohol and refused to perform field sobriety tests. When officers placed her under arrest, she reportedly refused to follow commands, but eventually stood up and put her hands behind her back.

Knee Injured

Two officers — Dustin Cook and Arik Wilson — transported Colson to Blount Memorial Hospital for a blood alcohol test, but once they arrived she refused to take the test, the lawsuit and police report state.

Police contend Colson became “extremely belligerent and combative” when instructed to get back into the cruiser. However the lawsuit states Colson suffers from severe anxiety and had “a severe panic attack” when told police were going to obtain a search warrant for a blood draw.

Cook and Wilson are accused in the lawsuit of ignoring Colson’s obvious signs of mental distress and refusing to giver her time to catch her breath.

According to the police report, officers heard Colson’s right knee “pop” as they struggled to get her back into the cruiser. Colson complained briefly about her knee, the report said, but continued resisting. During the struggle, she kicked one of the officers in the left knee, the report said.

The lawsuit, however, states Colson’s knee was injured when Wilson “violently kicked/kneed (Colson).” The lawsuit states this fractured Colson’s right leg and caused tears to her ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and LCL (lateral collateral ligament).

Officers said they were eventually able to get Colson back inside the cruiser and across to the jail, where a jail nurse examined the 36-year-old’s knee. The nurse said Colson’s knee appeared fine, and there was no swelling or visible injury to the area, the report said.

The lawsuit accuses the nurse, Jennifer Russell, of performing a “slipshod” and “abbreviated” examination which failed to identify Colson’s injuries.
According to the police report, Colson became combative with corrections officers and had to be placed in a restraint chair. Officers obtained a search warrant to perform a mandatory blood draw, at which point Colson reportedly caused more problems.

Corrections officers restrained Colson, however she still became combative, the report said. She also bit or tried to bite Mandy England, a BCSO corrections officer, police said.

Further Abuse Alleged

The lawsuit rebuffs that assertion as well, stating that Colson was trying to “nudge” England’s hand away with her chin. England and several other corrections officers are also accused of tormenting Colson.

The abuse reportedly included placing a helmet on the claustrophobic Colson while she was strapped in the restraint chair. Corrections officers also denied Colson the opportunity to use a toilet, leading to her urinating on herself “in front of a cadre of laughing” officers, according to the lawsuit.

For about five hours, “Colson remained alone in a cell, arms and legs restrained, in a helmet, with a fractured leg, torn ACL, torn LCL, with contusions, abrasions and bruises all over her body,” the lawsuit states.

Colson was released on bond about 7 1/2 hours after Wilson injured her knee, according to the lawsuit.

The officers named in the suit are accused of ignoring what is described as a “severe mental disorder” and “disability” for Colson.

Police Reactions

The Blount County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on either piece of pending litigation. County attorney Craig Garrett could not immediately be reached for comment.
Alcoa Police Chief Philip Potter said he had not yet been served with the Colson lawsuit, and had not yet read the complaint.

“I would just say that the (Alcoa) Police Department intends to vigorously defend our officers’ actions and our actions in this, and we will defend ourselves in court when it’s the appropriate time,” Potter told The Daily Times. “But other than that, we really couldn’t comment on the pending litigation.”

A request from The Daily Times for body camera footage from the arrest has been received, said Alcoa Police Capt. Phillip Dunn. Due to the pending litigation, Dunn said they are waiting for approval from Blount County District Attorney General Mike Flynn to release the video.

O’Briant said any video the BCSO might have would need to be requested from Garrett, who could not immediately be reached.

Wilson, Cook, Russell and England are all listed as defendants in the Colson suit. Alcoa Police Lt. Keith Fletcher is also a defendant.

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