“This case had the very real possibility of a jury verdict and judgment double or more the size of this settlement.” Mark Clarke, U.S. magistrate judge
The Lane County Board of Commissioners will vote this week to pay $500,000 to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit stemming from the December 2008 arrest and subsequent detention at the county jail of a mentally ill man, according to the proposed settlement agreement.
The lawsuit — the latest version of which was filed in October 2011 in U.S. District Court — alleges that county jail and medical officials mistreated Mark Kemp and neglected his medical needs after his arrest. Kemp is described as an intermittently homeless person who has lived in both Eugene and Springfield and is “unable to work.”
READ – Mentally ill man files suit in arrest. He says Lane County officials and Springfield law enforcement mistreated him in 2008 – Eugene Register Guard, December 25, 2010
READ – Lane County Balks at Documents Request – Eugene Weekly, September 19, 2012
The suit states that Kemp “had previously been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but was not on medication.”
The money to settle the suit will initially come from the county’s risk fund. That account has a little over $4 million in it now. The Lane County Sheriff’s Office will reimburse the fund from its regular discretionary budget over the next five years.
Lane County voters approved a five-year levy in May to bolster funding for the county jail. That money is being collected in an account separate from the sheriff’s discretionary budget and cannot be diverted to other purposes.
However, repaying the settlement could come at the expense of other sheriff’s office budget items.
The settlement is one of several items on the county board’s Tuesday consent calendar, which suggests that the commissioners will approve it with no discussion. County spokeswoman Anne Marie Levis said Friday that using the consent calendar is standard procedure for lawsuit settlements that come before the board.
Lane County Commissioner Pat Farr said Friday that settling the lawsuit was the least risky course of action for the county, even though he said the large amount of the settlement “makes me choke.”
“There was a general feeling that if it goes to trial, a jury could have ruled against” the county, Farr said.
Farr said that part of the reason for the settlement was that certain county jail procedures either had not been followed by the jail staff in their interactions with Kemp, or that adequate records of the staff following those required procedures had not been kept.
One of Kemp’s attorneys, Marianne Dugan, said Friday that, as part of the settlement, jail procedures will be modified to require better training and increased communication between jail staff members to identify and provide adequate treatment for inmates with mental illnesses.
“In this kind of case, (the financial settlement) is primarily important in that it provides incentive for the county to address the situation and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” she said.
The $500,000 settlement will be paid to the Civil Liberties Defense Center, a Eugene legal rights nonprofit organization.
After attorney’s fees are paid, the remainder of the payment will be held in trust for Kemp, who still lives in the Eugene area, according to Dugan.
The judge in the case praised the county board’s leadership on the issue, in a letter sent to Farr and the county’s attorneys last week. The letter was released by the county on Friday.
“Some Lane County citizens may question the size of this settlement at a time of such fiscal challenges for the county,” wrote U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Clarke. “Although I respect and understand this view, it is misplaced. This case had the very real possibility of a jury verdict and judgment double or more the size of this settlement.”
Kemp was first arrested in the evening of Dec. 29, 2008, in Springfield for disorderly behavior while trespassing at a gas station, according to the lawsuit.
He was released two hours later because of overcrowding at the county jail, but was rearrested the following morning for trespassing in a private office building near the jail, the lawsuit states.
Kemp was kept in jail under a mental health hold “to ensure he was not simply released into the community again without additional treatment and resources,” the lawsuit says.
During Kemp’s 12-day incarceration, jail officials did little in response to what the lawsuit claims were “obvious symptoms of serious mental illness and/or psychosis.”
Those symptoms included “bizarre physical and verbal responses” to jail officials’ questions and commands, repeatedly taking off his clothes, playing with his feces and urine, and violently smacking his cell’s floor and walls.
Kemp “was physically assaulted and was punished” because he was unable to respond to jail officials’ orders, which the lawsuit claims was a “manifestation of his disability.”
Jail officials also disregarded a Eugene Municipal Court judge’s order on Jan. 6 to transport Kemp to Oregon State Hospital in Salem because he was mentally unfit to assist in his defense, the lawsuit says.
Kemp’s time in the jail ended Jan. 10, 2009, when he had to be taken to a local hospital after becoming “critically ill” while in custody, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit sought unspecified damages for violations of Kemp’s constitutional rights and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
Lane County “didn’t have sufficient procedures to prevent Mr. Kemp from falling through the cracks,” Dugan said Friday.
In a prepared statement Friday, Lane County Sheriff Tom Turner — who was not in office at the time of the incident — said that “maintaining the safety of all Lane County residents is the core of our mission.”
“The unfortunate events that occurred in 2008 will not be repeated,” he said. “Much has changed in the Sheriff’s Office since that time including personnel and how the jail administers medical services.”
A city of Springfield police officer, as well as Lane County and several individual jail staff members, initially were named as defendants in the case. The Springfield police officer was dismissed from the suit by Kemp’s attorneys earlier this year. The settlement, if approved by the county board, will end all claims.