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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: North Coast | Police State and Prisons
County settles wrongful death suit; claim against EPD, sheriff's office stems from 2007 in
Today, a jury awarded Martin Cotton's family $4.5 million for his wrongful death at the hands of Eureka police. Not surprisingly, District Attorney Paul Gallegos issued a report after the death indicating there was insufficient evidence to determine how Cotton sustained the injuries and that he consequently could not file criminal charges against anyone for causing Cotton's death. Nancy Delaney, who represented the cops in the civil suit, said she expected a favorable outcome for the city of Eureka - even after the County settled with the family to avoid facing the civil trial. Wonder what she thinks now.
County settles wrongful death suit; claim against EPD, sheriff's office stems from 2007 in-custody death
Thadeus Greenson/The Times-Standard
Posted: 09/10/2011 02:20:10 AM PDT
On the eve of a wrongful death lawsuit slated to begin Monday, brought on behalf of the daughter of a man who died in Humboldt County Sheriff's Office custody in 2007, the county has settled out of court.
Martin Frederick Cotton II died Aug. 9, 2007, just hours after being involved in several violent altercations at the Eureka Rescue Mission, including one with Eureka police officers. The Humboldt County Coroner's Office said Cotton died of a subdural hematoma due to blunt force trauma but stopped short of determining the cause of that trauma.
On behalf of Cotton's daughter, Siehna Cotton, the Los Angeles-based Claypool Law Firm filed a civil rights violation claim in September 2008 against the county, the city of Eureka, the Eureka Police Department and the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office as well as a variety of individual EPD officers and jail staff. The suit sought unspecified damages in excess of $25,000.
Late Friday, the Times-Standard received a phone message from local attorney Bill Bragg, who is handling the suit on behalf of the county, saying he'd filed a notice of settlement on behalf of the county. The settlement, Bragg said, carries no admission of liability and was strictly economic in nature. He did not disclose the terms, and could not be reached for further comment by deadline.
The status of the remaining portion of the lawsuit -- that naming the city of Eureka, EPD and individual officers -- was unclear at the Times-Standard's deadline. Reached Thursday, local attorney Nancy Delaney, who's representing the city in the suit, said she was prepared to proceed to trial.
Cotton -- whose toxicology tests later showed a very high level of LSD in his system -- was booked into the Humboldt County jail at about 5:15 p.m. on Aug. 9, 2007, and died several hours later after being rushed to a local hospital when a correctional officer noticed his breathing was shallow.
The claim brought by Cotton's daughter alleges officers used excessive force during Cotton's arrest and acted negligently when they didn't seek medical treatment for him prior to booking him into the jail.
”The above-named defendants knowingly, consciously and maliciously used excessive force against Mr. Cotton and knowingly, consciously, maliciously, or in a grossly negligent manner, allowed Mr. Cotton to suffer and die without adequate medical attention,” the claim states, adding that “because it is unconscionable to attempt to place a value on the love and potential of a human being ... damages must be set in an amount sufficient to resound through officialdom and to deter such depraved and unlawful conduct.”
Delaney said she expected a favorable outcome for the city.
”On behalf of the city and the individual officers, we do not try our cases in the newspaper, but we anticipate the evidence at trial will show the officers used appropriate force to overcome significant resistance to arrest,” Delaney said Thursday.
The attorney said she also expected to present evidence indicating that Cotton suffered the subdural hematoma during an altercation at the Eureka Rescue Mission prior to officers' arrival there and that Cotton was very combative and showed no outward symptoms of a serious injury.
When Cotton was booked into the jail, officials said, he was too combative to be screened by a medical professional. In the wake of Cotton's death, EPD changed its policy to require that all suspects involved in altercations with officers be brought to a local hospital for a medical evaluation prior to being booked into jail.
Calls placed to attorneys representing Siehna Cotton were not returned Thursday or Friday.
The Humboldt County coroner's and district attorney's offices both released four possible explanations for the blunt force trauma that led to Cotton's death: that it occurred before Cotton arrived at the Eureka Rescue Mission, that it was caused during his altercations prior to EPD officers' arrival, that it was caused during his altercation with officers, or that it was self-inflicted while Cotton was in jail.
District Attorney Paul Gallegos issued a report after the death indicating there was insufficient evidence to determine how Cotton sustained the injuries and that he consequently could not file criminal charges against anyone for causing Cotton's death.