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Washington Prisoner’s Negligence Suit Settles for $75,000

Washington State’s Spokane County Jail reached a $75,000 settlement in a lawsuit that alleged guards failed to protect a prisoner from being assaulted by another prisoner.

Justin T. Betts, 35, has a long history of mental illness and has been jailed more than a dozen times. Shortly after his release from jail, Betts was arrested on new charges in April 2012. Police said he was high on methamphetamine while threatening people with a gun in downtown Spokane.

In a deposition, Betts said that on April 23, 2012, a prisoner at the jail “punched me from behind, I hit the ground and split my head open, and I was completely out of it.” Jail officials determined that prisoner Trevor Franklin was the assailant; he received 30 days in the facility’s disciplinary housing unit and lost 10 days of good behavior credits.

Betts’ lawsuit alleged the guards were aware he “exhibited signs of mental/emotional instability and had engaged in behavior that was likely to make him a target of assault by other inmates.” The county denied that its employees had acted negligently.

On June 12, 2017, Betts was again arrested and charged with second-degree domestic assault, unlawful imprisonment and failure to register as a sex offender. A mental health report filed in those cases stated he had schizoaffective disorder and had been in a mental hospital five times since 2012. Doctors issued varying opinions as to whether Betts suffered permanent damage to the frontal lobe of his brain during the 2012 assault at the jail, which may have contributed to his aggressive behavior.

At its July 18, 2017 meeting, the Spokane County Board of Commissioners voted to settle Betts’ negligence suit for $75,000. See: Betts v. Spokane County, Washington, Spokane Superior Court (WA), Case No. 15-2-02356-4.

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Related legal case

Betts v. Spokane County