Meadville Tribune

Local News

September 19, 2013

County settles out of court in jail civil rights case

MEADVILLE — Though the Crawford County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved an out-of-court settlement in a federal civil rights suit with a Springboro area man, the amount paid by the county is unknown publicly at this point.

At their meeting Thursday, commissioners publicly approved the settlement with Gary L. Richardson, 61, without comment.

In 2010, Richardson filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Erie against Crawford County, its jail and the jail’s medical provider.

In the suit, Richardson claimed he was injured when he suffered a seizure after not receiving his medication while an inmate at the jail in November 2008. Richardson alleged not having his medication caused him to suffer a seizure and subsequent fall while he was a pretrial detainee at the jail.

An out-of-court settlement was reached in August, but the settlement has a confidentiality agreement barring participants from talking about the case, according online court records with U.S. District Court. No dollar amount was listed with the settlement agreement, according to online court records.

The Meadville Tribune filed a right-to-know request with the county on Wednesday asking for documentation that includes a breakdown of all legal fees and all expenses paid by the county and its agencies associated with the case.

Following Thursday’s meeting, the Tribune asked for a copy of the settlement agreement but was informed by Ted Watts, the county’s attorney, that a right-to-know request must be submitted.

A formal right-to-know request for a copy of the settlement agreement was made by the Tribune Thursday afternoon.

Under Pennsylvania law, a government or government agency has five business days to grant the request; deny the right-to-know request, citing the legal basis for a denial or partial denial; or invoke a 30-day extension for certain reasons. If denied, the entity applying may appeal to the Office of Open Records in Harrisburg.

In November 2008, Richardson was in the Crawford County jail in Saegertown on one count of simple assault and three counts of harassment stemming from an alleged domestic dispute filed by Pennsylvania State Police. He pleaded guilty in Crawford County Court of Common Pleas in May 2009 to simple assault and two counts of harassment.

On June 5, 2009, Richardson was sentenced by Crawford County Judge John Spataro to a total of two to 12 months in jail on the simple assault charge followed by six months probation. Richardson also was paroled from jail June 5, 2009, by Spataro with credit for two months served but then had to serve 18 months probation.

Richardson’s suit claimed the jail’s refusal and failure to provide prescribed medications to Richardson and treat and take Richardson for medical treatment in a timely manner caused Richardson’s civil rights to be violated regarding unlawful search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment; cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment; and due process of law under the 14th Amendment.

The suit had named the Crawford County Correctional Facility; its warden, Tim Lewis; Deputy Warden Kenneth Saulsbery and staff members; the Crawford County Board of Commissioners at the time — Morris Waid, Jack Preston and C. Sherman Allen; Interim Healthcare, the jail’s health care provider at the time; and Dr. Richard Moran, who was medical director for the jail at the time.

However, in July 2012, then-U.S. District Judge Sean McLaughlin dismissed some of Richardson’s claims.

Richardson’s 14th Amendment violation claim against all the jail defendants for alleged failure to provide medications and medical treatment was dismissed because Richardson’s claim didn’t allege personal involvement by the defendants.

McLaughlin also dismissed Richardson’s supervisory liability claim against Lewis, Saulsbery, Waid, Preston and Allen because the suit didn’t show each defendant’s personal involvement in allegedly depriving Richardson of his rights.

McLaughlin also dismissed Interim Healthcare and Moran from the claim that the conditions of Richardson’s confinement at the jail were excessively harsh and/or punitive.

The suit claimed Richardson told jail personnel he required certain prescription medications including Xanax when he was booked into the jail Nov. 18, 2008. Xanax is a prescription anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication.

The suit claimed Richardson didn’t receive his medications from Nov. 18 through 22, 2008, began to suffer general weakness and dizziness, and had a staggering gait and headache, with his symptoms worsening.

The suit alleged Richardson made several requests to nursing staff to be taken to the hospital but was denied. The suit claimed that on Nov. 22, 2008, Richardson suffered a seizure, passed out and fell on a concrete floor at the jail, injuring his head, neck, shoulders and right arm.

The suit claimed Richardson suffered “substantial and permanent harms” as a result of not receiving his medications and not being taken to the hospital.

Richardson’s “right arm was permanently and substantially mutilated and impaired and is no longer amenable to surgical repair,” according to the suit. The suit alleged Richardson could no longer be a bus driver for disabled school children because of those injuries.

The suit alleged Richardson suffered because he wasn’t able to defend himself against the charges brought against him “but instead was forced to plead guilty to what he did not do because he was so very apprehensive and unable to acquire medical treatment while incarcerated and, by pleading, could thereby otherwise be immediately released.”

The suit alleged Richardson was taken to Meadville Medical Center for treatment on Nov. 22, 2008, following his seizure and released about seven hours later, but upon his return to jail Richardson was placed in solitary confinement for a week as a retaliatory punishment.

Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.

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