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Jury Awards $100 million to Brown Chiari client

Largest Civil Rights Death Verdict in U.S. History

A Buffalo, New York jury has awarded $100 million in damages on to the estate of a 35 year old man who died as a result of the actions of the County of Erie and five of its Sheriff deputies.

The jury found that the County and five deputies deprived Richard Metcalf, Jr. of his right to adequate medical care and that he was subjected to excessive force while being restrained while an inmate in November 2012. According to the attorneys for the estate this is the largest civil rights death verdict in U.S. history.

The Medical Examiner for Erie County had determined that Mr. Metcalf’s death was a “homicide”, but opined that the cause of death was a heart attack “brought on by stress”. The state Commission of Correction concluded eight years ago that jail deputies asphyxiated Metcalf through their restraint methods, including tying a “spit mask” around his neck and putting a pillowcase over his head.

“Mr. Metcalf died two days after this event in the jail, yet before his death the County officials were already trying to influence the Medical Examiner’s opinion” said Don Chiari who, along with Michael Scinta, tried the case on behalf of the Metcalf family. According to Chiari, there were emails and documents sent to the Medical Examiner right up to the time for her final report that sought to influence her opinion.

Famed pathologist, Michael Baden, who was also a member of the New York State Commission on Correction at the time of the investigation, testified at trial on behalf of the family. According to Baden, the combined effect of Mr. Metcalf being restrained in a face down position with his shackled legs being pushed forward toward his buttock for twenty-nine minutes, the spit mask tied around his neck, and then a pillowcase over his head caused Mr. Metcalf’s death by positional asphyxia.

Metcalf was arrested after suffering a psychotic episode that led him to break into a restaurant and hide in the cooler. Metcalf was held without bail pending a mental exam. While in his cell he experienced another episode and was extracted before being brought to the Infirmary where he was restrained for 29 minutes. “From the minute Mr. Metcalf entered the jail, the County failed to recognize his psychosis which culminated in this tragedy” said Scinta. The County had a longstanding history of failing to provide appropriate medical care and had been warned by the Department of Justice prior to 2012 according to Scinta.

According to the deputies, Mr. Metcalf was spitting blood so the five deputies held him in a face down position on and examination table. A spit mask was then applied. Mr. Metcalf chewed through the spit mask in order to spit more blood according to the defendants. According to Chiari, Mr. Metcalf chewed through the mask so he could breathe. After chewing through the mask, the deputies the “inexplicable” decision to place a pillowcase over Metcalf’s head, said Chiari.

It was not until the emergency medical technicians placed Mr. Metcalf in the ambulance and removed the pillowcase was it discovered that the spit mask had been tightly tied around Metcalf’s neck. One of the EMTs had to cut the mask off with surgical forceps. The EMTs testified that upon arriving at the jail the deputies would not allow them to assess Mr. Metcalf and controlled the gurney all the way to the ambulance. By that time Mr. Metcalf was in cardiac arrest. Metcalf was rushed to the nearest hospital, never regained consciousness and died two days later.

The awards of compensatory damages broke down this way:

  • $45 million for loss of life
  • $30 million for pain and suffering, including fear of impending death, while in the Holding Center
  • $10 million for pain and suffering from the time Metcalf entered the jail infirmary until his death
  • $10 million for fear of impending death

The jury also awarded $5 million in punitive damages, $1 Million against each of the five deputies. In addition to Dr. Baden, Andrew Poreda, M.D., Nathasha Cervantes, M.D., and Arthur Wallenstein testified on behalf of the plaintiffs.

View The Buffalo News Article

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