The Mobile County Commission has approved an $800,000 settlement with the family of a former Mobile Metro Jail inmate who was left paralyzed after an altercation with corrections officers three years ago.
As Lagniappe reported last summer, Brandon Jeffries was paralyzed after corrections officers attempted to restrain him on June 11, 2015. Officers said Jeffries was being disruptive, but his family has maintained they didn’t follow proper procedures and used excessive force.
Jeffries, originally from Cullman, had relocated to Mobile to reside in a group home for teenage boys in the Theodore area managed by AltaPointe Health Systems Inc.
He was diagnosed with multiple behavioral and impulse control disorders and arrested in May 2015 after allegedly threatening other residents at the home with a knife. He spent six months in Metro Jail before he was injured during the scuffle with officers.
The lawsuit subsequently filed by Jeffries’ family suggests the 18-year-old’s neck was broken after he was beaten and tased by corrections officers, and he was placed in an isolated cell for “at least 20 hours” before finally being taken to the hospital for medical treatment.
The family claimed the county was negligent in hiring, training and supervising the jail’s employees.
While the litigation dragged on more than three years in federal court, the county reached a financial settlement less than a month before the case was scheduled to go before a local jury Aug. 28.
County Attorney Jay Ross said the $800,000 settlement agreement will see the Mobile County Commission dismissed from the lawsuit, along with Sheriff Sam Cochran and 12 jail employees either directly involved in the confrontation with Jeffries or who had contact with him afterward.
Jeffries’ case put the county in a particularly tricky spot because his injuries occurred during a time when it had no coverage for law enforcement related incidents as part of its general liability insurance.
A county spokeswoman recently explained the coverage wasn’t available at the time of the incident due to a policy change made by the insurer — meaning all of the $800,000 settlement will come directly out of Mobile County’s general fund.
“There was no insurance,” Ross said. “The county will pay $800,000 to get the county and the remaining defendants — the corrections officers — out of the litigation. As with any lawsuit, the decision was made because it was decided to be the best way to resolve this issue.”
Commissioners declined to comment on the settlement with Jeffries’ family, but all three met with Ross and several other involved parties during an executive session in early July. Most sources who spoke with Lagniappe about the case gave the impression a trial by jury very likely could have ended poorly for the county.
The settlement might have been higher, too, were it not for an indemnity clause in the county’s contract with NaphCare Inc., which provides medical and mental health services in Metro Jail.
NaphCare has reached its own settlement with Jeffries’ family, according to Ross, who said he didn’t know the exact amount but assumes it’s more than $800,000. Despite concerns raised over this case at the time, commissioners renewed NaphCare’s contract in 2017 for $4,8 million and again this year for $5 million.
Metro Jail Warden Trey Oliver said the Mobile County Sheriff’s Department conducted an internal affairs investigation into the actions of the 12 employees named in the lawsuit. Of those, two were disciplined for “violating rules related to adherence to duty and improper actions.”
Oliver said two of those 12 employees have since retired and one has resigned, but most are still employed at Metro Jail.
“We did not find that anyone improperly caused the injury to this inmate. That really had no bearing on the actions we took,” Oliver said. “Our concern was that the incident was not properly handled according to our protocols.”
Oliver said one disciplined employee, a shift commander, did not have any physical contact with Jeffries, but did fail to call in a code that would have enhanced the jail’s level of security and locked cameras in on the area where officers were trying to detain Jeffries that day.
Because most of the security cameras used in the jail at that time were oscillating, Oliver said that commander’s decision greatly impacted what footage of the altercation was available to internal investigators and eventually to the attorneys representing Jeffries’ family.
“We do not think, nor do we have any reason to believe, she did that because she wanted there to be a lack of video coverage. She was trying to handle the situation in a low-key manner, but that backfired grossly,” Oliver added. “The camera in the area where this took place was scanning back and forth. So, it captured some of the incident but not the exact seconds that were needed for us to adequately defend this.”
According to Facilities Manager Tyler Martin, a subsequent $1.9 million overhaul to the jail’s security camera system is almost complete. The county also plans to put $15 million into further upgrades to the jail over the next few years to address “deficiencies” outlined in a National Institute for Jail Operations audit conducted in 2015.
While not directly related, the deficiencies noted in the audit and in a 15-year investigation into the jail by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division were cited in the lawsuit filed by Jeffries’ family. The DOJ investigation was launched in 2003 after inmate James Carpenter died from a flesh-eating bacteria.
According to the DOJ, between 2007 and 2009, its investigation found “unconstitutional conditions at [Metro Jail] including problems with inadequate mental health care, excessive restraint, failure to protect prisoners from physical harm, and unsafe and unsanitary conditions.”
Cochran told Lagniappe last summer that most of those issues had since been addressed and that a large chunk of the $15 million upgrades scheduled in the coming months will improve and expand areas that serve the mental health and medical needs of inmates.