Cities and counties — including Oklahoma City and Oklahoma County — are lining up to ask the Oklahoma Supreme Court to revisit a ruling that elected officials say could be costly to taxpayers.
The 7-2 ruling last month gave jail detainees who allege abuse while in custody the ability to sue under the Oklahoma Constitution.
Before the ruling, cities and counties were protected from such lawsuits by a narrow exemption written into state law.
“They're basically wanting a do-over,” said attorney J. Spencer Bryan, of Tulsa.
Bryan represents Daniel Bosh, a Cherokee County man who was beaten by detention officers in a Tahlequah jail.
Bosh, whose hands were cuffed behind his back, had his head slammed into the booking desk, then into the floor. A video camera recorded the scene.
In a federal civil rights lawsuit, Bosh says the assault continued in two other rooms beyond reach of the camera.
He says he was held two days before finally being hospitalized with spinal injuries.
In asking for a rehearing, Cherokee County authorities accuse the Supreme Court of making new law, a task they say is reserved for the Legislature. And they say the decision potentially exposes “governmental entities and taxpayers to considerable expense.”
Oklahoma and Tulsa counties, the Tulsa County sheriff and the cities of Oklahoma City and Tulsa all have asked the Supreme Court for permission to intervene.
The Oklahoma City Council voted this week to authorize its lawyers to draw up arguments against the decision.
Others trying to get into the dispute include the Oklahoma State School Boards Association and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.
Lawyers for the School Boards Association raise the specter of more — and more costly — lawsuits over allegations of excessive force in disciplining students. They suggest students could bring constitutional claims saying they had been assaulted or molested by teachers or administrators.
School districts could be exposed to “lawsuits with no cap on damages. This could be financially devastating to school districts, and particularly devastating to taxpayers who would ultimately pay any judgment rendered through ad valorem tax assessments.”
But without the protection provided by the Supreme Court decision, citizens such as Bosh lack a state remedy for brutal treatment by jailers, said Brady Henderson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma.
The Constitution ought to protect Oklahomans from being beaten by jailers, he said: “We think that there's a narrow but important class of civil rights violations that could happen with relative impunity.”
A spokesman said the Supreme Court cannot comment on pending matters. Henderson said he'd expect a decision within a few months.
They're basically wanting a do-over.”