Colorado County Pays $800,000 for Latest Excessive Force Settlement
by Derek Gilna
Philippa Grace McCully, a 21-year-old college student and cancer survivor arrested in 2014 for erratic driving that she blamed on a reaction to various prescription psychiatric drugs, was taken to a jail in El Paso, Colorado for processing.
There, the 100-pound, 5-foot-tall woman was slammed to the floor while restrained, resulting in serious injuries; she was then refused prompt medical treatment.
McCully filed suit and, in July 2018, received settlements totaling $675,000 from the jail and $125,000 from its medical provider, Correct Care Solutions, LLC.
According to McCully’s civil rights complaint, a sheriff’s deputy “grabbed [her] feet and brutally pulled Plaintiff’s legs out from underneath and behind her, causing Plaintiff to slam forcibly onto the cell floor, audibly hitting her head and knees against the hard concrete surface ... at the same time [another deputy] pulled Plaintiff’s legs out from behind her, [and] excessively forcefully shoved Plaintiff down hard by her left shoulder using his right arm, simultaneously restraining her arms from behind....”
McCully further claimed that she “suffered severe injuries, including but not limited to a fractured left knee, left knee hyperextension with bone contusion, left anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) avulsion tear, torn left posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), left posterior joint capsular tear, extensive, deep bruising on the fronts and backs of her legs and blunt trauma to her face, head and upper body.” See: McCully v. Correct Care Solutions, LLC, U.S.D.C. (D. Colo.), Case No. 1:16-cv-00867-WJM-MEH.
Her experiences were not unique. According to a 2015 jail report, use-of-force incidents tripled from 130 in 2010 to 458 in 2014, and included punching, kicking and Tasers, as well as the use of handcuffs and pepper spray.
Prior to McCully’s settlement, El Paso County had paid $489,000 to resolve excessive force cases involving Sheriff’s Office staff since 2010, according to spokesman Matt Steiner.
In July 2010, jail prisoner Brock John Behler settled with the county for $80,000 after he was “violently body slammed” to the floor of his cell by guard Dennis Grivois for refusing to get out of bed. See: Behler v. Grivois, U.S.D.C. (D. Col.), Case No. 1:09-cv-02282-WDM-MEH. “In this particular case, we can’t defend what that deputy did,” said then-El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa. “Our employee was wrong. He was operating outside of our policy.” Grivois was later fired.
Rose Ann Santistevan, 71, received a $75,000 settlement in 2013 after she suffered a heart attack when her home was mistakenly raided by a drug task force. Also in 2013, Paul Vargas received $300,000 after a sheriff’s deputy shot and killed his 27-year-old daughter, Christine Vargas. Christine was wanted for failing to appear in court. Two other settlements added $34,000 to the total, including one in which jail prisoner Robert Montoya was attacked by guard Patrick Smith after Montoya asked for a replacement carton of milk.
Another investigation appeared to uncover serious misconduct by some El Paso County sheriff’s employees. While representing McCully, Denver civil rights attorney Darold Killmer discovered that jail staff had organized a “fight club,” with awards for those who inflicted the most pain on prisoners. A 2014 picture of Deputy Sandra Rincon holding a cake with the number 50 on it – representing the number of use-of-force incidents in which she had been involved – helped Killmer settle McCully’s case.
“This exposed an entire culture of violence,” he said.
A very expensive culture, too, since county taxpayers have to foot the bill for settlements resulting from misconduct and excessive force by sheriff’s employees.
Sources: www.csindy.com, www.kktv.com, www.gazette.com