Posted in Civil Rights on June 28, 2013
Victims of excessive force within Oklahoma jails can now seek relief in the state courts throughout Oklahoma.
On Thursday June 27, 2013, the Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed its decision in Bosh v. Cherokee County Governmental Building Authority, 2013 OK 9. The Court initially issued the opinion in February, but the Defendant and numerous other governmental entities filed motions to keep the decision from ever taking effect. With Thursday’s order, however, the Court cleared the way for victims of excessive force in Oklahoma jails to vindicate their rights in court.
Various governmental entities that moved to prevent the decision from taking effect have described it as a “sea-change” and “a dramatic change in the law.” Prior to the decision, these governmental entities could ignore the abuses committed by their jail staff without fear of incurring liability. This all-encompassing view of immunity has resulted in the victimization of countless Oklahomans by the very government charged with their protection. In Custer County, the Sheriff himself was criminally convicted of sexually assaulting and manipulating female inmates in his custody. In Delaware County, jail staff were also accused of raping female inmates. Before the Supreme Court’s decision in Bosh, these women had no way of holding the counties accountable under state law– and the counties wanted to keep it that way.
In Bosh, the Oklahoma Supreme Court recognized the extraordinary injustice that results if jailers are permitted to beat and rape their charges with impunity while county government shrugs its shoulders. The need to create a remedy for these victims was clear and unambiguous to everyone but county government. Rather than embrace the decision as a way to manage the jail in a more professional manner, or a reason to root out bad employees, county government vigorously fought to maintain the status quo. In other words, the counties appreciate that jailers are beating and raping inmates, and despite that knowledge– despite knowing that jailers are victimizing innocent people– county government wanted to deny innocent victims of excessive force from ever having any state-based remedy against the county.
As of Thursday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has signaled an end to the reign of terror. County government can no longer shrug its shoulders and ignore abuses and excessive force inflicted by jail staff. While numerous questions about this new right remain, and while future battles over the right are inevitable, the Bosh decision takes us one step further in evolving our standards of decency, compassion and humanity.
If you have questions about excessive force generally, or the Bosh decision specifically, contact the attorneys at Bryan & Terrill Law, 918-935-2777.
****J. Spencer Bryan and Steven J. Terrill of the law firm Bryan & Terrill Law, P.L.L.C. represent the Plaintiff, Daniel Bosh, in Bosh v. Cherokee County Governmental Building Authority, et al., Oklahoma Supreme Court Case No. CQ-111,037.