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$1.5M Settlement in Oklahoma Jail Beating

Cherokee County, Oklahoma officials agreed to pay $1.5 million to the estate of a man who was brutally beaten by jail guards in 2011. The Cherokee County Governmental Building Authority approved the settlement in an executive session meeting on January 27, 2016.

According to court records, Daniel Bosh was arrested in May 2011 for failure to pay court fines and taken to the Cherokee County Detention Center. When Bosh asked one of the jail guards, Gordon Chronister, to loosen his handcuffs, the guard told Bosh to “shut the fuck up.” Bosh and Chronister continued to exchange words until Chronister left his station.

Jail surveillance video showed Chronister slamming Bosh’s head into the booking desk, then using his own body weight to slam Bosh’s head onto the floor. When additional guards arrived at the scene, they grabbed Bosh and allowed Chronister to dig his knee into the back of Bosh’s neck, causing “additional and unnecessary pain.”

The guards took Bosh to a shower area – which was not covered by surveillance video – and continued to beat him, punching him in the face. He was then dragged out of the shower room back to the booking area and placed in a restraint chair.

Jailers did not provide Bosh with medical treatment for two days, until he was eventually taken to a local hospital where he was diagnosed with a severe burst fracture in his spinal column – a.k.a., a crushed vertebrae – which required surgery.

Bosh later filed suit against the county, Chronister and another jail guard who had participated in the beating, T.J. Girdner. The case languished for nearly five years. In 2013 the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled the jailers were not immune from liability under the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act, and in 2014 Bosh died of heart disease. The county tried to have the case dismissed at that point, but the district court held Bosh’s estate could continue pursuing the suit on his behalf. [See: PLN, April 2014, p.54].

Cherokee County officials were sanctioned by the court for destroying jail surveillance video; the court ruled that jail staff had intentionally destroyed evidence that they had a legal duty to preserve.

The county will pay $600,000 of the settlement, with the remainder paid by the county’s insurance policy. Bosh’s family agreed to waive payment of the sanctions for destroying the video evidence. Attorney J. Spencer Bryan, who represented Bosh and his estate, said the family was “pleased with the result.”

The Cherokee County District Attorney’s office declined to charge any of the jail guards who had participated in Bosh’s beating.

Following the settlement agreement, in July 2016 the district court adopted a report and recommendation to require Cherokee County officials to pay $9,475 in attorney fees and $85.60 in costs to the Oklahoma Bar Foundation as a donation on behalf of Bosh’s estate. The fee and cost award was ordered as a sanction for a separate discovery violation by the county’s attorney, who failed to appear for a deposition. See: Bosh v. Cherokee County Governmental Building Authority, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Okla.), Case No. 6:11-cv-00376-JHP. 

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Related legal case

Bosh v. Cherokee County Governmental Building Authority