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Excessive Force And Medical Negligence Death In Youngstown, Ohio Arrest Settles For $350,000 From Police, $100,000 From PHS

by John E. Dannenberg

The death of a Youngstown, Ohio arrestee who was severely beaten by police and negligently treated by Prison Health Services? (PHS) contract jail medical staff resulted in a settlement totaling $450,000.

African-American Booker Mitchell, 72, was summoned to the scene of an automobile accident involving his wife, Mattie. He brought Mattie?s driver?s license and proof of financial responsibility. Youngstown Police Officer Michael Walker refused Booker?s offer to use his AAA membership to have Mattie?s car towed, and Booker walked away.
Inexplicably, Walker next grabbed Booker from behind, knocked him head-first into a parked van, denting the van. Walker then landed on the unarmed Booker, whereupon he maced and handcuffed him. Walker arrested Booker for obstructing official business, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. One hour later, he was transported to Mahoning County Justice Center.

At booking, PHS, who conducts medical intake interviews, noted Booker suffered from high blood pressure. PHS nurse Wilson reported that Booker could not remember what medication he took, that he had been pepper-sprayed, but regretted the incident at his wife?s accident and was not in ?acute distress.? Booker constantly complained that his head hurt. When PHS staff examined him, he also complained that his eyes burned. Staff permitted him to splash his eyes with water. Booking continued despite Booker?s obvious pain.

Two hours later, Booker?s stepdaughter (plaintiff) Denise Pennington posted bail, and awaited his release. Still in booking, Booker told a deputy that his legs were weak and he wanted to use the restroom. The deputy called for medical assistance. PHS Nurse Figgs again only provided for rinsing of his eyes. Booker then went into a women?s staff restroom, because he couldn?t see well. When brought to the reception area, Booker fell from the deputy?s arms onto the floor and wet his pants. After his release 4 1/2 hours later, Booker was taken at Pennington?s request to Northside Hospital, where a brain scan revealed a massive hemorrhage that left only 50% of his brain functional, following which he went into a coma and died.

Pennington sued for Booker?s estate under both state and federal law, alleging police violations of Booker?s constitutional rights from use of unjustified excessive force and PHS?s ?negligent, wanton or reckless? failure to adequately treat Booker. On summary judgment, the court granted qualified immunity to two of three sheriff deputy defendants. The case settled with PHS paying $100,000, Mahoning County, $100,000 and the City of Youngstown, $250,000. Plaintiffs were represented by Cleveland attorney Terry Gilbert. See: Pennington v. City of Youngstown, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ohio, E.Dist.), Case No. 4:02 CV 01343.

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