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$17.5 Million Paid to Ohio Prisoner Left Quadriplegic After Brutal Attack by Guards

by Harold Hempstead

In November 2021, Ohio state prisoner Seth Fletcher received a $17,500,000 settlement to conclude the civil rights complaint filed on his behalf against guards at Chillicothe Correctional Institution (CCI), after the developmentally disabled 21-year-old was the victim of a brutal assault that left him physically disabled, too.

In October 2018, when he was just 18, Fletcher was convicted of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor for filming sexual activity with his underage girlfriend. He was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to register as a sex offender.

At CCI, according to a lawsuit later filed on his behalf, that allegedly made him a target for harassment by two guards, Dustin Knox and Jerry Combs, who ignored Fletcher’s history of mental illness and Asperger’s diagnosis to mock and tease him. On April 3, 2020, they further escalated the situation, the suit continued, physically attacking him.

Knox and Combs “took Fletcher to the ground and restrained him,” the complaint recalled, “maliciously and sadistically punching [him], delivering strikes, and kicks all over” his body, while he “remained on the ground and completely defenseless.”

So savage was the beating that Fletcher’s neck was fractured in multiple locations, damaging his spinal cord and causing quadriplegia. Barley conscious, he told the guards he couldn’t move his legs. But instead of taking him for medical treatment, they carried him to an isolation cell and threw him in it by himself. When he asked for water, the guards allegedly threw it in his face.

Two days later, on April 5, 2020, Fletcher was discovered motionless in the isolation cell by a prison psychologist. He was taken to a hospital and transported to Ohio State University Hospital to treat multiple injuries, “including spinal cord injury, fractured neck [and] quadriplegia,” the complaint continued.

Aided by attorneys Nicholas A. DiCello of Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLP in Cleveland and James J. Harrington, IV of Fieger, Fieger, Kenney, Giroux & Harrington, P.C., in Southfield, Michigan, Fletcher filed suit in federal court for the Southern District of Ohio under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, accusing the guards of excessive force and deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment, as well as accusing them of assault and battery under Ohio law.

Meanwhile the state Department of Corrections (DOC) investigated. The guards claimed that Fletcher tried to break free and run from them when they discovered him with a contraband cigarette, forcing them to tackle and restrain him. But no surveillance cameras were in operation to verify that. DOC investigators also uncovered text message exchanges in which the guards allegedly mocked Fletcher’s injuries with “LMAO.” No charges were filed in the case, but six DOC employees resigned, two were put on temporary suspension and three more were fired.

On November 2, 2021, plaintiff’s counsel and assistant attorneys general with the state Criminal Justice Section notified the Court that the complaint had been settled for $17,500,000. Additional representation was provided Fletcher by attorneys Geoffrey N. Fieger of Fieger, Fieger, Kenney, Giroux & Harrington, P.C., and Jeremy A. Thor of Spangenberg, Shibley & Liber LLP. See: Fletcher v. Knox, USDC (S.D. Oh.), Case No. 2:20-cv-01912.  

Additional source: Newsbreak, YoAir

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Related legal case

Fletcher v. Knox