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$540,000 Settlement in Minnesota Jail Beating

In October 2001, Hennepin County, Minnesota, agreed to pay $540,000 to settle a brutality suit against the county jail. It is believed to be the largest brutality settlement in county history. On September 4, 2000, Derek Martin, 43, was arrested on suspicion of violating a restraining order by Brooklyn Center police. Martin was taken to the Hennepin county jail.

The Hennepin county sheriff's office claimed that Martin was "uncooperative." But a jail video showed a very cooperative Martin being led into the jail; guards putting a bag over his head and then being taken into a room outside of camera range where screams and moans are heard. Jail guards then calmly emerged from the room.

Martin claimed he was beaten so badly that his hip was fractured and dislocated. Jail staff claimed they used a procedure of putting a prisoner's legs behind him to immobilize the prisoner "to ensure staff safety."

After having his hip broken by jail guards, Martin had to wait 25 hours before being taken to a hospital to have his hip put back into place and receive treatment. Martin later filed suit in federal district court. Rather than take the case to trial, county and jail officials opted to settle the suit by paying Martin $540,000 and also forgiving $12,500 in medical bills Martin incurred at a county hospital after the beating.

Hennepin county commissioners approved the settlement and payout, without any public debate. One commissioner, Mike Opat, said the county settled to avoid unlimited liability in the case. The sheriff's office claimed it was still investigating the incident and could not comment. Jail spokeswoman Roseann Campagnoli said: "I wouldn't want to imply that a settlement before trial implies any conclusions."

Not surprisingly, Martin's lawyer, Robert Bennett, had a different take on the settlement. Bennett opined that the county settled the case because Martin had a high likelihood of proving his case at trial. "It says to me that there were procedures and people then in place... that would tolerate abuse of prisoners. There's apparently a notion that you can do this sort of thing and get away with it," Bennett said.

Asked about the lack of public debate in approving the payout, Hennepin county public affairs director Carolynn Marinan, told media: "It's not out job to tell people about bad news." Marinan did not elaborate and specify which public servant had that unpleasant task in Hennepin County.

Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune

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Related legal case

Martin v. _____