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Beaten Connecticut Jail Detainee Awarded $2.07 Million

A federal jury in February, 1999 awarded Kevin King $2 million in punitive damages and $75,000 in compensatory damages for a beating he suffered at the hands of Hartford (Conn.) Correctional Center jail guards. The verdict touched off a firestorm of controversy because King, 27, is a convicted rapist and killer that many in the community believe does not deserve the money.

In May 1996, King was convicted for the 1992 rape and murder of a 15-year-old neighbor girl. While in the jail awaiting sentencing, he attacked jail guard Elizabeth Jannetty, 32, who had let him out of his cell to make a phone call. King was wielding a homemade knife fashioned from a fan blade when he overpowered Jannetty, removed her uniform, tied her to a metal bunk, and then tried to stroll out of the jail wearing her uniform.

Control Booth guards didn't recognize King as a guard and sounded an alarm. King bolted down a corridor, chased by several guards. Mark Verdone and Noel Brown were among the first guards to reach King.

According to the official jail investigation report, a "violent struggle" ensued to subdue and restrain King. The report stated that King continued resisting as he was being escorted to another area, attempting to kick, spit at and bite staff. A Captain was forced to use a burst of pepper spray, the report said.

According to the report, jail officials later learned that King, while being restrained, fell on a 5-inch shank he was concealing beneath his clothing, causing a 6-inch-deep wound that just missed his heart.

Jail officials later awarded Verdone and Brown "medals of valor" for their roles in preventing King's escape. Jannetty remains out of work, on workers' compensation at full salary, and is attempting to sue the state for negligence; security cameras in the area of the jail where the attempted escape and subsequent struggle took place were inoperable.

According to attorney Norman Pattis, who represented King, the jury reached their own conclusion about the violent strugile and determined that Verdone and Brown violated King's civil rights.

King "was kicked and punched while laying in a fetal position with his hands behind his back and handcuffed," Pattis said. "Different guards came back at different times for a little bit of 'jailhouse justice.'"

Pattis said Connecticut Attorney General Richard A. Blumenthal turned down an offer to settle the beating claim for $20,000. Blumenthal acknowledged that he rejected a settlement offer for "thousands of dollars," but declined to say for how much.

"I simply concluded that settlement was inappropriate," Blumenthal told Associated Press, "and I don't regret for a moment that decision."

While the jury deliberated, Pattis said he again tried to settle with the state, this time for $30,000.

Blumenthal said it would have been unthinkable to pay a convicted murderer and rapist thousands of dollars for minor injuries stemming from an escape attempt.

During jury selection, Pattis asked how many people thought his client deserved the beating he got after viciously attacking a guard while trying to escape from jail. About half raised their hands.

"Now do you see why this is a federal case?" he recalled asking the rest of the jury pool. He pointed to the men and women with the upraised hands and said; "The guards thought they would get a jury just like this."

Perhaps the attorney general believed he could persuade the four men and four women who were enpaneled that King's crime was so despicable that he deserved some "jailhouse justice."

When the jury returned the $2.07 million verdict, a local political firestorm was touched off. The state attorney general, lawmakers and counsel for the family of King's teenage murder victim all vowed to ensure that King will never see a penny of the award.

Blumenthal said that if a new trial or reduction in the large award isn't granted, the state would insist that King reimburse the state for the cost of his incarceration. He said the state is also poised to demand King rebate workers' compensation costs stemming from his attack on jail guard Elizabeth Jannetty.

New Britain mayor Lucian Pawlak asked city attorneys to see if the city can sue King for $45,000. That s the amount the city paid the Urbanski estate, the family of the 15-year-old girl king murdered, to settle a lawsuit in 1997 alleging that the police were too slow to respond to the murder.

Jacob Wieselman, attorney for the Urbanskis, said the family was stunned by the $2.07 million award. Wieselman said he contacted area lawmakers to see if legislation could be passed to enable the Urbanskis to sue King for the $2 million. The family and the estate is barred from suing King because of a two-year statute of limitations that expired after the 1992 murder.

Lawmakers were quick to respond. By day's end, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin B. Sullivan, state Sen. Tom Herlihy, and Rep. Demetrios Giannaros filed paperwork asking the judiciary committee to draft legislation that would allow the Urbanskis to sue King.

Pattis said punitive damages need not have any connection to the severity of the plaintiff's injuries. The issue, he said, was did the guards violate King's rights?

"This jury was outraged at the conduct of the guards," Pattis told the Hartford Courant. The case was less about money than having a jury rebuke the guards for violating the civil rights of a prisoner, he said.

Pattis acknowledged that King, who is doing life without parole, obviously has no way to reap any benefit from the jury award. He hinted that King will not fight to hang onto every penny of the $2.07 million award.

"I would like a way to end the pain this case has caused," Pattis said, "and find a way to resolve it as quickly as possible -- for my client's sake, the Urbanskis' sake and officer Jannetty's sake. As far as the litigation machine goes, this [case] could go on for years. We made our point."

Associated Press, Hartford Courant

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King v. ____