Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Nevada County Settles Lawsuit Over Jail Prisoner’s Death for $500,000

by Matthew Clarke

In September 2017, Washoe County, Nevada settled a lawsuit brought by the parents of a man who died after a struggle with deputies at the county jail.

Reno police arrested Justin Thompson, 35, and took him to a hospital for treatment of injuries he received in a struggle with the arresting officers. Doctors noted he had a history of bipolar disorder, and complained of being “off psych meds.” Thompson was discharged into the custody of the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office and taken to jail.

Clad only in shorts, he was locked in a holding cell for over a day. He became increasingly distressed, wrapping toilet paper around his head and ears, clutching his head, writing on the walls in his blood and lying on the floor curled in a fetal position. Guards in tactical gear violently extracted him from his cell.

Thompson was taken to the same hospital, treated for his injuries, given Haldol for agitation and then returned to the jail chained to a wheelchair. Deputies became aggravated at Thompson’s failure to answer questions during the booking process. They grabbed his head and twisted his neck, covered his face with a “spit mask,” piled on to him and pinned him down. Eight deputies knelt with their weight on the back of his prone body over the course of 30 minutes.

On a video recording of the incident, Thompson is repeatedly heard complaining that he can’t breathe. He died while being restrained.

The coroner ruled his death a homicide in which a heart attack was induced by positional restraint and the struggle. The coroner also noted Thompson had suffered numerous injuries, including a fractured rib. [See: PLN, March 2018, p.16].

Sheriff Chuck Allen criticized the deputies’ actions as shown on the video and asked the Sparks Police Department to investigate. They found no criminal liability.

Aided by Las Vegas attorney Peter Goldstein, Thompson’s parents filed a federal lawsuit alleging jail personnel had violated his civil rights; they also raised pendent state tort claims. The county quickly agreed to settle the case for $500,000. See: Thompson v. County of Washoe, U.S.D.C. (D. Nev.), Case No. 3:17-cv-00333-MMD-VPC. 

Additional source: Associated Press


As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Thompson v. County of Washoe