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Beating of Michigan Jail Prisoner Results in $36.6 Million Verdict,$12.9 Million Settlement

by Chad Marks

In 2010, William Jennings was booked into Michigan’s Genesee County Jail on a DUI charge. According to surveillance video footage, within hours he was brutally beaten by sheriff’s deputies – slammed to the floor, his head smashed against a metal bench, and punched and kicked. 

After the melee Jennings was left with a torn rotator cuff, broken facial bones, nerve damage in one of his hands, a chipped tooth and a trauma-induced cataract in one eye. He filed a lawsuit that same year in federal court against the county and deputies Patrick Fuller, Robert Nuckolls, David Kennamer, Mark Wing and Jason White.

After a 12-day trial in late 2016, a jury awarded Jennings $36.6 million, including $17.62 million in compensatory damages and $19 million in punitive damages. But the county disputed the amount and U.S. District Court Judge Avern Cohn recommended a remittitur of nearly $11 million in 2017 – $4 million for past damages and $6.24 million for future claims.

Jennings declined the judge’s recommendation and a new trial was ordered. Prior to the start of the second trial, though, a $12.9 million settlement was offered by the defendants, which Jennings agreed to accept.

As part of the settlement, reached in early 2018, the deputies did not admit to any wrongdoing; however, that did not stop Judge Cohn from pointing out that their misconduct seemed to be felonious assault, a point also made by the jury in the original trial. 

The judge noted that “Jennings was subjected to three hours of serious physical pain, including loss of consciousness and a struggle to breathe as officers forced his body into hard surfaces, applied pepper spray and a Taser, and exerted significant pressure onto his head, neck and back.” 

In the same order, Judge Cohn further wrote that Jennings “feared impending death due to an inability to breathe, a serious form of mental anguish.”

Genesee County Sheriff Robert J. Pickell had no comment on the settlement, nor could he provide any evidence that the deputies involved were ever disciplined. Jennings has since moved out of the county due to fears the deputies might retaliate against him if he remained. Everest National Insurance Company is paying the settlement for Genesee County. See: Jennings v. Fuller, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Mich.), Case No. 2:13-cv-13308-AC-RSW. 


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Related legal case

Jennings v. Fuller