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$35,000 Settlement in Indiana Jail Failure to Protect and Medical Care Suit

by David M. Reutter & Mark Wilson

Indiana’s Marion County Jail (MCJ) has paid $35,000 to settle a federal civil rights complaint that alleged deliberate indifference to a prisoner’s safety and serious medical needs.

The lawsuit was filed by Joseph R. Grieveson, a federal detainee incarcerated at MCJ from 2000 to 2002. Between November 30, 2000 and March 21, 2001, he was assaulted seven times by both other prisoners and a guard.

During Grieveson’s first six months at the jail he shared a cell with former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Art Schlichter. A federal grand jury was investigating Schlichter for gambling schemes involving his attorney, Linda Wagoner, who allegedly smuggled items into the facility for Schlichter. Grieveson’s friend, Norman Buff, was involved in the Schlichter investigation.

Grieveson believed “that he was considered a ‘snitch’ ... because of his association with Buff.” On several occasions, Buff asked guards to move Grieveson away from Schlichter. He was finally moved on November 18, 2000, to a 45-bed dorm.

Twelve days later Grieveson was beaten unconscious by another prisoner who “called Grieveson a ‘snitch’ and said the beating was a ‘favor for Schlichter.’”

Grieveson repeatedly informed guards that he had a broken nose, was bleeding down his throat and was in intense pain. Grieveson’s sister called the jail, attempting to get him medical care. Three days after the assault he was finally taken to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with a broken nose, prescribed pain medication and advised to see a plastic surgeon.

A guard initially refused to give Grieveson his medication, “saying ‘You don’t need it. Be a man and stop whining.’” MCJ staff later gave Grieveson all of his prescribed pain pills at one time, but a stronger prisoner took them away from him, leaving him without medication for a week.

On December 31, 2000, Grieveson was assaulted a second time. He asked to be moved and also requested that he be given “only one dose of medication at a time.” He was assaulted again on January 17, 2001, but not taken to a hospital for two days – and only then after repeated calls from his family.

Grieveson had to have a broken tooth surgically removed. He was again prescribed pain medication and issued the entire prescription at once. The medication was again stolen by another prisoner.

On January 22, 2001, a “guard slammed Grieveson’s arm in a steel door and threw him repeatedly against the bars in a basement holding cell. The guard reportedly told Grieveson to stop complaining and stop ‘causing trouble.’” Grieveson was taken to the hospital and treated for an injured shoulder. He was prescribed pain medication and told to apply “cold packs to the injury.” Guards denied him an ice pack, however, saying “we don’t give those out here.” He was again issued his entire pain medication prescription, which was again taken by a stronger prisoner.

In February 2001, Grieveson was “pummeled” in the face for snoring, and on March 4, 2001 he was assaulted a sixth time when he tried to stop other prisoners from stealing his food and property. A guard witnessed that assault and told Grieveson “to learn how to fight harder or don’t come to jail.”

Grieveson filed a grievance concerning the repeated assaults on March 14, 2001, expressing his fears and requesting to be moved to a safer cell block. Buff also relayed his concerns about Grieveson’s safety and asked that he be moved. He was not.

The seventh and worst attack occurred a week later, when a prisoner who was a former client of Schlichter’s attorney hit him “in the face and slammed his face into a steel table, knocking Grieveson unconscious.” After regaining consciousness, it took him 90 minutes to get a guard’s attention.

“Grieveson suffered ... a broken left eye socket, damage to his optic nerve, and injuries to his ribs, face, jaw, and nose.” On March 28, 2001, a plastic surgeon concluded that immediate surgery was needed to address the damage to his eye. The surgery was to occur within a few days, but was not performed because Grieveson was transferred to a federal prison. It took 35 days for his medical records to follow. By the time he saw another doctor it was too late to correct the injury to his eye.

Grieveson sued various jail officials in federal court, alleging they had failed to protect him from harm or provide him with adequate medical care. He also raised state law negligence claims. The district court dismissed some of his claims and granted summary judgment to the defendants on the remaining claims. Grieveson appealed.

The Seventh Circuit found that for all but one of the assaults, “Grieveson presented no evidence that any of the named defendants were aware that Grieveson was perceived as a snitch by his fellow inmates.” Therefore, there was “no genuine issue of material fact concerning the assaults Grieveson suffered at the hands of angry, unstable, violent inmates because there is no evidence demonstrating that any of the named officers knew about these threats to Grieveson’s safety.”

However, the appellate court held that Grieveson’s claim concerning the sixth attack survived summary judgment because he alleged a guard had witnessed the incident but failed to intervene and told him he needed to “learn how to fight harder.” Those facts exhibited a “quintessential deliberate indifference.”

The Court of Appeals also concluded that “Grieveson’s claim for deliberate indifference to his medical needs survives summary judgment ... to the extent that the claim relates to delay in treatment after Grieveson’s first assault.” He failed to “show that the named defendants were personally involved in the other delays.”

Finally, the Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of Grieveson’s state law negligence claims, explaining that “Grieveson’s burden on a negligence claim is far less than his burden on a § 1983 deliberate indifference claim,” and “negligence law exists to deal with the very types of allegations Grieveson made here – that certain individuals should have acted differently in light of the duties applicable to them, and that their failure to abide by the relevant standard of care caused Grieveson personal injury.” See: Grieveson v. Anderson, 538 F.3d 763 (7th Cir. 2008).

On remand, Grieveson successfully moved to have the U.S. District Court judge recuse herself from his case. The court noted that “A careful review of the criminal proceedings, rather than demonstrating a bias or prejudice against the Defendant by the undersigned judge, reveals a concerted effort by her to ameliorate the harsh conditions / effects of Defendant’s incarceration in the Marion County Jail....” However, as the judge had “independent knowledge relating to the pending civil claims because of or growing out of [Grieveson’s] criminal prosecution,” she recused herself in January 2009.

The parties agreed to settle the case in August 2009 for $35,000 following seven years of litigation, and the court entered a stipulation of dismissal in October. Grieveson was represented by Indianapolis attorney Michael K. Sutherlin. See: Grieveson v. Cottey, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Ind.), Case No. 1:02-cv-01862-LJM-TAB.

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Related legal cases

Grieveson v. Cottey

Grieveson v. Anderson