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Federal Jury Awards $6 Million to Epileptic Colorado Prisoner, but New Trial Ordered

by Matthew Clarke

On March 7, 2018, a Colorado federal jury awarded $6 million to a prisoner in a lawsuit over his mistreatment by a guard while he was experiencing an epileptic seizure.

Jayson M. Oslund, a Colorado state prisoner, had a history of epilepsy and was taking anti-seizure medication before he entered the prison system. Despite being aware of his condition due to a previous incarceration, the medical provider at the Sterling Correctional Facility refused to prescribe him anti-seizure drugs. About 30 months later, Oslund suffered a grand mal seizure, fell, struck his head and was rendered unconscious. At the prison’s infirmary, he received anti-seizure medication and five stitches for a head wound, then was sent back to his housing unit.

A few hours later, Oslund suffered a second seizure. Guards were summoned and, while Oslund was convulsing, incoherent and unaware of his surroundings, Officer Mullen allegedly violently slammed Oslund back-first into the cell wall, causing his head to strike the wall, then forcibly took him down, landing on top of him and shouting “stop resisting” while Oslund’s head struck the concrete floor. When Oslund regained consciousness, he was in a segregation cell and unable to balance himself sufficiently to walk without assistance. He remains wheelchair-bound.

Based upon the description of Mullen’s conduct by Oslund’s cellmate, who was present during the incident, Oslund filed a pro se federal civil rights lawsuit, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs and excessive use of force. The defendants filed two motions for summary judgment. After an attorney agreed to represent Oslund, the claim against the prison’s medical provider was voluntarily dismissed, the motions for summary judgment were denied and the lawsuit proceeded to trial based on the excessive force claim against Mullen.

The jurors found that Mullen had used force maliciously and sadistically, causing Oslund actual harm and violating his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Oslund was awarded $5 million in compensatory damages plus $1 million in punitive damages, and judgment was entered in his favor.

However, less than a month later, on April 2, 2018, U.S. Magistrate Judge Kathleen M. Tafoya, sua sponte, set aside the jury verdict and judgment, and scheduled a new trial. Tafoya found the amount of the jury award “shocked the conscience” of the court, and contended the record in the case supported, “at best, only nominal damages.” She added, “no reasonable jury could have found that Officer Mullen caused any physical injury to Plaintiff, much less a $5,000,000.00 injury, on the evidence presented at trial.”

The case remains ongoing, with the parties engaged in settlement discussions pending another trial. See: Oslund v. Mullen, U.S.D.C. (D. Colo.), Case No. 1:15-cv-00491-KMT-KLM. 


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Related legal case

Oslund v. Mullen