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Settlement Reached in Beating Death of Florida Prisoner

In October 2002, the sons of a Florida man agreed to settle their wrongful death action, in the U.S. District Court in Pensacola, against several jail guards and the Escambia County sheriff. The amount of the settlement was not disclosed.

This case began on January 5, 1999, when Mark Bailey, a 39-year-old house painter, was arrested for resisting arrest and battery on a cop. After being deposited in the Escambia County jail, Bailey allegedly slugged a female guard, breaking her jaw. In response, Bailey was beset upon by several guards and a cop. The altercation led to Bailey's death.

The Escambia County medical examiner classified the death a homicide, but attributed the cause to Bailey's bad heart.

A second autopsy by a physician hired by Bailey's family concluded that death was the result of a severe beating. A third autopsy by former Pinellas/Pasco counties medical examiner Joan Wood supported the bad heart theory.

At a coroner's inquest in August 2000, Escambia County Judge David Ackerman, whose brother Ken is serving a 15-year term for DWI homicide in Florida, concluded that at least one guard "overreacted and administered extra, unnecessary, uncalled-for blows." But Akerman also faulted Bailey for starting the fight and for threatening the guards.

Ackerman noted conflicting testimony from the guards, who depicted a benign effort to subdue Bailey, and prisoner witnesses, who described a savage beating. Although Ackerman concluded it probable that the guards reacted inappropriately, he found "it impossible to say" to what extent.

Two of the autopsies attributed Bailey's death to blunt trauma, an enlarged heart, alcohol abuse and overexertion, but none of the three could pinpoint a specific injury that caused death. Although the guards testified that none of them struck Bailey, the autopsies found 38 to 85 distinct injuries.

After the inquest, Escambia County State Attorney Curtis Golden declined to prosecute any of the guards. Golden cited "inconsistent and contradictory"' testimony, a familiar theme in Florida. Golden claimed he was unable to determine who administered the fatal injuries, or who was responsible for the excessive blows.

At the civil trial, which began on October 21, 2002, prisoner witnesses testified that the guards threw Bailey to the ground and punched, kicked and stomped him repeatedly. Bailey died less than 30 minutes later in a holding cell. The guards denied the allegations.

During the first week of the trial, the parties decided to settle. Bailey's family was represented by Todd LaDouceur and O'Gwen King. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but court records indicate that the sheriff department's insurance will cover the full amount.

Sources: USA Today, Naples News, St. Petersburg Times

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