Friday, June 15, 2018

County Settles Wrongful Death Lawsuit for $3.5 Million

Posted By on Fri, Jun 15, 2018 at 12:42 PM

click to enlarge Daren Borges and his mother, Stephany Borges. - SUBMITTED
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  • Daren Borges and his mother, Stephany Borges.
The county of Humboldt has settled the federal civil rights lawsuit stemming from the 2014 jail death of Daren Borges, agreeing to pay Borges’ family $3.5 million in damages and legal fees, and to make various changes to jail policy.

Borges, 42, a homeless, schizophrenic poet and artist, was living in Eureka at the time of his June 13, 2014 arrest on suspicion of public intoxication. Eureka police officers arrested him at about 2:15 p.m. near the corner of Seventh and D streets, and booked him into the jail 25 minutes later. Correctional officers placed Borges alone in a sobering cell, where he was found unresponsive about an hour and 20 minutes later.

In August, a federal jury found county correctional officers failed to follow policy and recklessly disregarded Borges’ obvious medical needs and effectively caused his death when they rushed him through the booking process and opted not to have him medically screened before placing him into the sobering cell where he died of a methamphetamine overdose. The jury, which deliberated for about 10 hours before returning its unanimous verdicts, also found that Humboldt County had failed to adequately train its correctional officers.

Immediately after the jury's $2.5 million verdict, the county indicated it would seek to have the verdict thrown out and ask for a new trial in the case but it appears settlement negotiations have been underway since October, according to court records.

Journal attempts to reach County Counsel Jeff Blanck for this story were unsuccessful but Dale Galipo, who along with John Fattahi represented Borges’ family, said the county “quickly realized” case law and evidence were contrary to its position in the case and there was a “strong likelihood” that a continued effort to fight the verdict would only drive up attorneys’ fees.

It appears the settlement stipulates that $2.5 million of the $3.5 million total will go to Borges’ mother, Stephany Borges, with the remainder going to pay legal fees. The settlement also includes some “nonmonetary provisions,” including that the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office will implement mandatory trainings on recognizing methamphetamine toxicity during the jail’s pre-booking process, implement trainings on excited delirium, modify sobering cell policies to incorporate Institute for Medical Quality standards, enact a policy to track and document the training of correctional staff and enact a policy “ensuring all jail staff receive Medical Issues training” prior to completing their field training programs.

Galipo said these negotiated policy changes were incredibly important to the Borges family.

“It was really never about the money for our client,” he said.

Contacted for this story, Stephany Borges and her daughter Sofia Borges provided the Journal with a joint statement.

“Our family is deeply relieved that this four-year fight has finally come to an end,” the statement reads. “The reforms that the county and jail have agreed to will save lives. This verdict and outcome speaks volumes about the importance of taking our constitutional rights seriously. No one should ever be denied the fundamental right to necessary, life-saving medical care. We are grateful to our lawyers for fighting for Daren and all the others that don’t have the opportunity to speak for themselves. We are grateful to our civil jury of local residents for taking a stand and holding their community and the powers that be accountable to the law and their own policies. Daren was not the first to die unjustly at this jail, but we sincerely hope that with these new critical medical training and screening procedures in place that he will be the last. Thank you for respecting our privacy as we move forward and conclude our grieving process."

Look for a more thorough report on the settlement in next week’s Journal. Find a copy of the settlement agreement here and past coverage of the case and Daren Borges’ life here.
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Thadeus Greenson

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Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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