Inmate Can Sue Over Injuries After Seizures
(CN) - Jail guards must face claims that they handcuffed and dragged a seizure-prone inmate around, eventually dislocating his shoulder, a federal judge ruled.
Brian Lipscomb is suing Hall County Jail Officers Christopher Llanas, Nick Sanders, Philip Sturgill and Jeff Ashley in Gainsville, Ga.
The complaint describes a several days in 2009 where jailers allegedly dragged Lipscomb around by his arms because the inmate's seizure disorder left him unable to move.
On March 27, after a series of seizures put Lipscomb in the infirmary for three days, the inmate allegedly refused to return to his cell.
Llanas and Sanders, following orders, then picked Lipscomb up off of a bed, put his arms around their shoulders and "dragged him back to his cell," U.S. District Judge Richard Story wrote, summarizing testimony from the parties.
While being carried, Lipscomb requested that Sanders slow down because he was dizzy. The officers say they did not respond or slow down, however, because other inmates observing the altercation were threatening them.
Lipscomb says he suffered a seizure during that time, and that the officers dropped him as he urinated and defecated on himself. He allegedly was unconscious by the time the officers brought him to his cell.
When Officers Sturgill and Ashley started the next shift, they learned about Lipscomb's seizure and need of a new jumpsuit.
At recreation time that evening, Lipscomb was carried out by his cellmate Thomas Jefferson Lewis and placed on a picnic table bench. The officers allegedly ignored requests to get help for Lipscomb.
"It was almost like they were tired of fooling with Brian," Lewis testified, according to the ruling. "He had been sick before."
When the inmates returned to their cells, Lipscomb was left behind. Sturgill "commanded" Lipscomb to get up and walk to his cell, and Ashley threatened to use his pepper-spray on the inmate, according to the ruling. Lipscomb says he was then yanked off of the table "out of the blue," chipping his tooth and getting knocked unconscious as he hit the floor.
Lipscomb says he woke up on the floor, handcuffed and with an officer's knee in his back. Sturgill allegedly grabbed the cuffs and pulled both Lipscomb's arms back, "so far back that they ended up over plaintiff's head and in front of his face," dislocating his shoulders.
He says the officers ignored his cries and dragged him to his cell.
Lewis, the cellmate, remembered that Sturgill "got mad" when Lipscomb initially refused to walk, handcuffed Lipscomb, and "jerked" and "slammed" Lipscomb into a table. When the officers dragged Lipscomb, they "were pretty close" to getting the handcuffs all the way over his head, Lewis added.
Jail medical records from the three days following the incidents show Lipscomb complained of a "cracked tooth, numbness, weakness, bruising, seizures, a spine injury, and vomiting," but he was refused medications and sick call, the ruling states.
An initial x-ray also showed no dislocation or bone or joint abnormality, Judge Story noted.
He saw the doctors about his shoulder again in mid-April, and a doctor diagnosed it as dislocated in May 2009. Lipscomb underwent corrective surgery in 2012.
The officers moved for summary judgment, but Judge Story preserved several claims last week.
Lipscomb's state-law battery and punitive damages claims against Ashley, Llanas and Sanders are dismissed because the officers did not touch him "in an offensive or insulting way," or cause him physical harm, according to the ruling.
Battery claims against Sturgill, however, may proceed, given the "weight of medical evidence," Story wrote.
"According to plaintiff, Llanas and Sanders picked him up from his hospital bed, put his arms around their shoulders, and supported his entire weight as they took him back to his cell," the 24-page ruling states. "The only alleged harm to plaintiff was dizziness because the officers were moving quickly."
Lipscomb failed to allege any harm committed by defendant Ashley, and he cannot strike the declaration of the doctor that reviewed his initial x-ray, Story said.
The parties have 30 days from the Sept. 20 ruling to file a proposed consolidated pretrial order.
Hall County, pop. 179,684 in 2010, is located in northeast Georgia.