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$125,000 Settlement After Failure to Protect Verdict in Virginia

Following a July 2017 federal jury verdict that found guards had failed to protect a prisoner from an attack by another detainee at the West Virginia Regional Jail (WVRJ), the parties agreed to settle the case for $125,000.

The suit was filed by prisoner Dewayne Jackson Cox, 52, who was held at WVRJ after sentencing while he awaited a transfer to the state prison system. Cox was housed in Pod 3A in early 2011. During his stay, three prisoners moved into that pod and formed an informal gang.

The gang took over all aspects of the pod that were left to prisoner discretion, including control of the television and seating in the common area. They also stole and forcibly took property from other detainees, such as food items from the commissary, according to Cox’s lawsuit.

The gang “became increasingly bold in their ill-treatment of and threats to other” prisoners. Fearful for the safety of himself and others, Cox submitted a complaint to WVRJ officials; a guard named Keller then called Cox out of the pod and spoke with him about his complaint. A short time later one of the gang members, Jackson, returned to the pod and said Keller had told him about the complaint.

“We gonna get you, snitch,” Jackson reportedly told Cox.

Sometime later, Brandon J. Reddix was moved into the pod and joined the gang. Other prisoners and Cox agreed on April 10, 2011 to file complaints with jail staff. While the gang members were at recreation in another part of the facility, guards Benjamin Baxley, Justin Miles, Joshua Pinkerman and Bradley Quinn spoke to Cox and other prisoners about their complaints. One of the guards said he was “not sure of what they should do about it. Maybe we should tell the sergeant?”

Despite Cox’s warning that speaking to the gang would only make matters worse, the guards called the gang members out individually about the complaints.

Cox was fingered as the snitch, and Reddix assaulted him that same day. Cox suffered at least one broken rib and multiple lacerations; Reddix was ultimately charged with and convicted of the assault.

Following the attack, Cox filed grievances. The guards subjected him to retaliation in the form of fabricated disciplinary charges, confronting him in an aggressive and intimidating manner, and accusing him of inciting the attack; they also charged him exorbitant prices for prescribed medication for the injuries he sustained.

Represented by attorney Melvin E. Williams, Cox filed a civil rights action. The lawsuit proceeded to trial, and on July 13, 2017 the jury found Baxley, Pinkerman and Quinn had violated Cox’s Eighth Amendment rights by acting with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of harm. The verdict was for liability only, and WVRJ subsequently agreed to settle the case for $125,000 in damages and Cox’s attorney fees. See: Cox v. Baxley, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Vir.), Case No. 7:16-cv-00408-GEC. 

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Related legal case

Cox v. Baxley