(CN) - Anderson County, Tenn., must compensate a man who was partially blinded and sexually assaulted in a cell when he should have been released, an appeals court ruled.
A sheriff's deputy arrested Kenneth King for driving on a revoked license in 2009, and the county locked him up in a cell with other men charged with violent crimes because King was verbally abusive and uncooperative during the arrest.
At King's arraignment the next morning, a judge found that a clerical error had led to the record showing King's license. King was ordered released at 11 a.m., but Terri McCloud, the county employee in charge of that function, elected instead to do "nothing for approximately three hours and forty-five minutes."
The court found that pretrial release was McCloud's "only duty and Mr. King was the only prisoner to be released that day."
While King awaited release, the county brought him back to jail, fed him lunch and put him back in a cell at 2:33 p.m.
King claimed otherwise, but the court found that he had provoked a fight with a cellmate, Brandon Paul, who was awaiting trial on attempted murder.
Paul ultimately broke King's nose and fractured his eye socket. King was also stripped and fondled, and his rectum was penetrated, according to the court. The injuries left King with partial vision loss.
After a bench trial, a judge found the county 55 percent at fault for King's injuries. Since King had provoked the fight, he was 45 percent at fault, the court held. As such, the judge ordered Anderson County to pay $93,500 for its share of the $170,000 in damages that King had sustained.
An appellate panel in Knoxville affirmed Thursday.
"In the absence of an explicit finding by the trial court that injury to Mr. King was foreseeable from leaving him in a cell with dangerous men an unreasonable amount of time after the release order was given, we make our own finding that the evidence preponderates in favor of a finding that the injury was reasonably foreseeable and that proximate cause exists," Judge Charles Susano wrote for the court.
The appellate court declined to assign more of the blame to King.
Though the trial court had found that King antagonized his cellmate, "it also recognized that it could not determine exactly how and why the altercation broke out," according to the ruling.
"Further, the trial court expressed some understanding as to why Mr. King would be agitated over being forced to remain in jail for charges that had been resolved, but found 'no excuse' for the county's delay, by and through the action of Terri McCloud in failing to release Mr. King," Susano added.
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