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Federal jury returns $1.1M verdict against Milwaukee County correctional officer

By: Cristina Janda//January 23, 2013//

Federal jury returns $1.1M verdict against Milwaukee County correctional officer

By: Cristina Janda//January 23, 2013//

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VERDICT: $1.1 million

Case name: Marletha Rankins v. James Howard, County of Milwaukee and David Clarke Jr.

Court: U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin

Case type: Personal injury

Case number: 2:11-cv-01153-JPS

Injuries claimed: physical and psychological injuries, pain and suffering

Special damages: medical expenses, loss of future earning capacity, compensatory damages and punitive damages

Date of incident: March 7, 2009

Disposition date: Dec. 5, 2012

Plaintiff’s attorney: Kevin Keane, of Host & Keane SC, Brookfield

Defendants’ attorneys: Karen Tidwall, Charles Bohl and Andrew Jones, of Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek SC, Milwaukee

Plaintiff’s expert witnesses: Warren Cook, expert in the application of professional standards for the appropriate custody and care of inmates held within a correctional facility

Defendants’ expert witnesses: Jeff Eiser, a jail operations expert

Jurors in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin returned a $1.1 million verdict last month against Milwaukee County correctional officer James Howard.

Howard was found guilty of sexual assault of a former detainee at the Milwaukee County Jail. Specifically, the jury found Howard violated the plaintiff’s constitutional rights by acting with deliberate indifference to her bodily integrity and the plaintiff was entitled to recover punitive damages as a result.

The award consisted of $100,000 for compensatory damages and $1 million for punitive damages.

According to the complaint filed in the lawsuit, the plaintiff, Marletha Rankins, was in pretrial custody at the Milwaukee County Jail on March 7, 2009, pursuant to an extradition warrant from the state of Arkansas. During the late hours of March 7, 2009, and the early morning hours of March 8, 2009, defendant James Howard reportedly was the sole guard on the women’s custodial pod at the jail. At that time, he allegedly sexually assaulted the plaintiff on at least two separate occasions in her cell.

After the assaults, the plaintiff reportedly was unable to leave her cell to report the assault until March 8, 2009, when she was taken to a Milwaukee hospital and subjected to invasive procedures including preparation of a rape kit.

She apparently then was returned to the jail, where she reportedly was kept in isolation due to the allegations she made against Howard. She was not granted access to other individuals or witnesses relative to the assaults.

The plaintiff asserted that after the assaults, she suffered panic attacks and was prescribed medication, suffered permanent physical and psychological injuries, and underwent psychological therapy regarding those problems.

Later, the plaintiff reportedly was transferred to the state of Arkansas, where she eventually was released without charges and without being convicted of any offense.

Howard was charged in Milwaukee County Circuit Court with one count of second-degree sexual assault by a correctional staff, which is a Class C felony, and third-degree sexual assault, a Class G felony, and was found guilty after a jury trial Sept. 17, 2010. Howard was serving his 4½-year prison sentence at the Oshkosh Correctional Institution when the victim in December 2011 filed a civil lawsuit against Howard, Milwaukee County and David Clarke Jr., the Milwaukee County sheriff at the time the assault occurred. Her claims included intentional assault, federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the 4th and 14th amendments, failure to train and discipline and supervise, and assault and battery under state law.

Rankins claimed Clarke and the county failed to discover during their hiring process that Howard had a predisposition to causing such injuries to inmates, and through their policies and procedures, allowed him to be the sole correctional officer at the women’s pod on the night of March 7, 2009, thus giving him sole access to female inmates who were under his direct custody and control.

The plaintiff asserted Howard was acting within the scope of his employment when he assaulted her. She further argued the injuries she sustained were caused by the reckless, outrageous, intentional and/or negligent acts of the county and/or its agents in their failure to supervise their employee and to protect her from cruel and unusual punishment and use of excessive and unreasonable force.

The county filed an answer generally denying the plaintiff’s allegations.

A jury heard only the plaintiff’s claims against the county and Howard, and the verdict and judgment only were entered against Howard.


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