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“Join Me in Holding Your Nose” Federal Judge Reluctantly Okays $750,000 Settlement in Ohio Pre-Trial Detainee’s Excessive Force Suit

by Keith Sanders

On December 6, 2021, the Board of Commissioners of Clermont County, Ohio, voted to pay $750,000 to settle a suit brought by a former pretrial detainee allegedly subjected to unconstitutional mistreatment at the county jail. The vote ratified an earlier agreement reached between the parties, after a federal judge invited them to “join me in holding your nose” as they settled the case.

The detainee, Jared Schwartz, was arrested and placed in the custody of the Clermont County Jail on February 8, 2018. Nine days later, around 7:30 am on February 17, 2018, three jail guards delivering a breakfast tray allegedly attacked him without provocation, when he was posing no imminent threat.

Other guards joined in, and during the assault Schwartz’s head hit a metal door. After a container of pepper spray malfunctioned, Schwartz said another guard repeatedly punched and kicked him. Then, after Schwartz was handcuffed, a guard allegedly struck him in the ribs, declaring that the detainee needed “one for the road.”

Schwartz suffered extensive injuries from the attack. According to a lawsuit he later filed, he was left immediately afterward with “a bloody nose, bruises and contusions on his forehead, signs of a skull fracture, and scratches on his body.” But Court documents also alleged that guards waited over seven hours before finally taking Schwartz to a hospital, where he spent six days in intensive care after being diagnosed with “a right rib fracture, three vertebra fractures and acute kidney failure.”

After the assault, Schwartz further alleged, neither Sheriff Robert Leahy nor the Clermont County Sheriff’s Office took disciplinary or remedial action against the jail officials involved, despite incident reports detailing the extent and severity of the assault.

On June 14, 2019, Schwartz filed suit in federal court for the Southern District of Ohio under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming his Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of due process was violated by Sheriff Leahy with the excessive force his guards used against the detainee.

The case proceeded slowly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, at a settlement conference on March 16, 2021, the parties reached an agreement. All defendants except the Board of County Commissioners for Clermont County were dismissed with prejudice in their official and individual capacities, with the Board then to be also dismissed after paying Schwartz the settlement amount.

A transcript of the conference recorded Judge Timothy S. Black, an appointee of former President Barrack H. Obama (D), issuing the parties the odd invitation regarding nose-holding as the settlement was approved.

Of the total amount paid, $565,262 went to Schwartz’s Cleveland attorneys, Jacqueline C. Greene and Alphonse A. Gerhardstein of Gerhardstein and Branch Co., LPA, which amount was earmarked for their fees and costs, plus an initial disbursement to Schwartz. The remaining $184,738 went into an annuity that will be paid to Schwartz in 2028. See: Schwartz v. Clermont Cty. Sheriff’s Off., USDC (S.D. Oh.), Case No. 1:19-cv-00453.

Editor’s Note: Judge Black also garnered attention as a critic of some who sought judicial relief from COVID-19 vaccine mandates, telling a group of attorneys arguing against a mandate at a Cincinnati hospital system in October 2021 that they had espoused “unsupported conspiracy theories.” He assumed senior status at the Court in May 2022. 

 Additional sources: Cincinnati Enquirer, WCPO


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Related legal case

Schwartz v. Clermont County Sheriff's Office