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$8.25 Million Verdict Against Former Colorado Sheriff for Detainee’s Sexual Assault During Jail Transfer

by Matt Clarke

On October 4, 2022, a federal jury in Colorado awarded $8.25 million to a woman taken by a former sheriff to his home and sexually assaulted as he was transporting her to another jail.

Peatinna Biggs, 46, who is developmentally disabled, was in custody of Sedgwick County when then-Sheriff Thomas Hanna decided to transport her to the Logan County Jail in August 2016. Before leaving the Sedgewick lockup, he had her change into street clothes. Then, using his personal pickup truck – in violation of department policy – he didn’t take her directly to the other jail. Instead Hanna allegedly drove to his house and ordered Biggs to go inside.

There he allegedly offered her $60 to have sex with him, and when she refused, he ordered her to undress, removed some of his own clothing and sexually assaulted her. He then threatened her, she said, vowing she would go to prison for the rest of her life if she told anyone about the sexual assault. Then, at last, he took her to the Logan County Jail.

Sedgwick County Deputy Sheriff Larry Neugebauer witnessed as Hanna had Biggs change into street clothes, which was highly unusual for a prisoner transport. Neugebauer also spotted the Sheriff’s pickup parked at Hanna’s house, as Neugebauer was driving back from a lunch break at his own home.

Neugebauer reported his observations 12 days later to the Logan County District Attorney’s Office, which opened an investigation. That led to criminal charges against Hanna for sexual assault on an at-risk adult, as well as sexual misconduct in a correctional setting, kidnapping and soliciting a prostitute. Hanna, then 45, was convicted of official misconduct in Logan County court on May 8, 2018. He had already been removed from office in a recall election the year before.

Denver attorney Hollis Ann Whitson of Samuel & Whitson was appointed guardian ad litem for Biggs, when she was found to be legally incompetent. Aided by fellow Denver attorneys David N. Fisher and Jane H. Fisher-Byrialsen of Fisher & Byrialsen, she brought a federal civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, accusing Hanna of violating Biggs’ civil rights and seeking to extend supervisory liability to the Board of County Commissioners, as well as Neugebauer and his successor, Carlton Britton, who assumed office when Neugebauer resigned in March 2017. However, all defendants except Hanna were dismissed from the lawsuit prior to trial. See: Whitson v. Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs of the Cty. of Sedgwick, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 269284 (D. Colo.).

Following two-days of proceedings, the jury then found Hanna liable for excessive use of force, cruel and unusual punishment and false imprisonment. For that, Biggs was awarded $3.25 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. See: Whitson v. Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs of the Cty. of Sedgwick USDC (D.Colo.), Case No. 1:18-cv-02076.

While the judge was reading the verdict, Biggs was heard repeatedly saying, “Oh my God, I got my justice back, I got my justice back, they believed me.”

Meanwhile, Sheriff Britton also resigned in April 2022. In an election held the following year, county voters hired his permanent replacement, current Sheriff Matthew Crowder (R). 

Additional source: Denver Post, Julesburg Advocate