A court ruling in the case of a man whose beating by jailers was caught on video has county leaders across Oklahoma on edge.
“It means more lawsuits, is what it means,” Ray Vaughn, chairman of the Oklahoma County Board of Commissioners, said Monday.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court said the state Constitution gives jail detainees who allege abuse the ability to sue counties and other governmental entities.
Until now, counties have had immunity under state law “from liability arising out of the operation of prison facilities,” the Supreme Court said in its ruling.
The provision forced people who claimed they had been mistreated in jail to sue for civil rights violations in federal court. Vaughn said the threshold to have a claim accepted on the federal level is more stringent than in state court.
The case arose after Daniel Bosh, a Cherokee County man, was arrested in May 2011 by a state trooper for failing to pay court costs. The trooper took Bosh to the jail in Tahlequah.
According to Bosh's federal lawsuit, Bosh exchanged words with jailer Gordon Chronister after Bosh asked Chronister if he would loosen his handcuffs.
Chronister slammed Bosh's head into the booking desk, then put Bosh's head underneath his arm and slammed Bosh into the floor, in a move described in the lawsuit as similar to those used in mixed-martial arts fights.
A video camera recorded the scene before jailers moved Bosh into two other rooms, where the assault continued, the lawsuit says.
It says jailers denied Bosh medical care for two days before he was hospitalized with spinal injuries.
The lawsuit quotes an unnamed inmate who described other instances of violence at the Cherokee County Detention Center.
Jailers constantly watched mixed-martial arts fights on a computer in the booking area, the witness said.
Vaughn said county officials want justice to be served but “we know there are times when frivolous lawsuits are brought.”