Virginia has spent more than $38.6 million defending and settling claims against jails, sheriff’s departments, prisons and mental health facilities during the past five fiscal years, according to data from the Virginia Department of the Treasury.
The Virginia Department of Treasury recently released a paper that reports that Virginia has spent more than $38.6 million defending and settling claims brought by families of those who have died while incarcerated and claims involving excessive force by deputies, wrongful arrests, and other acts of negligence.
The paper also reports that plaintiffs in four additional pending wrongful death lawsuits are suing for a collective $115 million in damages.
Details of the Spending
Virginia spent $2.2 million to defend and settle a lawsuit brought by the family of Billy Creed. Creed was a delusional and paranoid man who stole a car, went to jail and died within a few days of his 2006 arrest. Creed’s family accused guards at the Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center of beating, pepper-spraying and choking Creed before he died.
Virginia also spent $1.2 million to defend and settle a lawsuit brought by the family of James Robinson, who had a seizure while driving, crashed his car into a house and was taken to the city jail, where he died within two weeks. The lawsuit claimed that Robinson was not given his seizure medication and developed a painful infection in his lungs that was ignored by guards and medical staff.
Virginia spent $677,000 to defend and settle a lawsuit filed by the family of Guido Newbrough, a German national who was taken to Piedmont Regional Jail in Farmville to await deportation because of a felony criminal conviction. Newbrough died within eight months of his arrival. His family said he developed a staph infection so severe he couldn’t walk.
Richmond Sheriff’s Office and Richmond’s City Jail
According to the report, the taxpayers of Virginia have spent almost $6 million defending and settling lawsuits against the Richmond Sheriff’s Office and the Richmond City’s Jail over the past 5 years. That is $1.5 million more than the next agency on the list and $5.2 more than the average of agencies with at least $100,000 in claims.
Richmond Sheriff C.T. Woody Jr. said in an interview, “Y’all say, ‘You’re killing people down there’ … No, the people are dying when they come here…. Yes, they are dying … They are dying here, but I think (their families) should carry their pain and their anguish to the people who can actually do something about the bigger picture: to the General Assembly, the lawmakers, the people who control the funding.”
Experts have said that Woody is half right and that the deinstitutionalization that pushed people out of state-run mental facilities and into communities ill-equipped to accommodate them has resulted in their reinstitutionalization in jails. However, Frank Cohen, a professor emeritus at the State University of New York at Albany and a former federal court monitor overseeing juvenile justice in Ohio has said, “No, people with mental illnesses don’t belong there, but that doesn’t mean (Woody) doesn’t have a constitutional obligation to take care of them.”