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Seventh Circuit Reverses Indemnification for Guard's Abuse; Jury Awards $400,000 in Damages Against

Seventh Circuit Reverses Indemnification for Guard's Abuse; Jury Awards $400,000 in Damages Against Guard

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court's order granting indemnification against Macon County, Illinois. The court found that a jail guard was not acting within the scope of his employment when he orchestrated an attack on a pretrial detainee.

John Copeland was arrested on charges of attempted first-degree murder and aggravated battery of a child in connection with injuring his infant son by shaking him. Darren Gregory was a Macon County Jail guard at the time.

Before Copeland arrived at the jail, Gregory informed a prisoner of Copeland's charges and that he was being assigned to Gregory's area. The prisoner then asked... if Gregory wanted him to stomp or physically assault Copeland. Gregory responded... "that's the plan." The prisoner told Gregory he would recruit other prisoners to help carry out the attack on Copeland. They then agreed that Gregory would open the doors to the cells and turn his back to allow the [prisoners] to attack Copeland.

As planned, one evening Gregory opened the cell doors and intentionally turned his back, allowing the [prisoners] to attack and beat Copeland, until [he] became unresponsive. As a result of the beating, Copeland suffered severe injuries, including a fractured eye socket and numerous cuts and abrasions.

Gregory was charged for his role in the attack and on February 23, 2001, [he] pled guilty to... official misconduct. Copeland then sued Gregory alleging that he violated Copeland's civil rights when he initiated and organized the attack... On January 21, 2003, a jury returned a verdict for Copeland and awarded [him] $400,000 in damages. Copeland then brought suit against Macon County and the... Sheriff... for indemnification under... the Illinois Local Government and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act.

The district court granted Copeland summary judgment, finding that Gregory was acting within the scope of his employment when he initiated and facilitated the attack on Copeland. This finding was based upon the conclusion that he was employed by the citizens of Macon County, not the Jail, and he acted with the intent to prevent and punish child abuse, which is a purpose...[he] shared with this employer.

The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding that Gregory's conduct... was not the type of conduct that he was authorized to perform nor was his conduct actuated by a purpose to serve his employer. See: Copeland v. County of Macon, Illinois, 403 F.3d 929 (7th Cir. 2005).

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