Pa. prison, ex-inmate settle civil rights case for $1.1 million

The former inmate claimed COs used excessive force and caused "life-threatening injuries"

By Ed Palattella and Madeleine O'Neill
Erie Times-News

ERIE COUNTY, Pa. — Erie County has agreed to pay $1.1 million to settle the federal lawsuit of Patrick J. Haight, a former Erie County Prison inmate who claimed corrections officers violated his civil rights in an assault in May 2017.

The lawyers for Haight, Alec B. Wright and Timothy P. O'Brien, of Pittsburgh, announced the settlement, which they said was the result of mediation.

Haight, 53, sued the county in U.S. District Court in Erie in March. He claimed officers used excessive force and caused "life-threatening injuries" during a confrontation at the prison on May 10, 2017. Haight was being held at the prison on $500 bond after failing to appear for a hearing in a DUI case.

Haight had to be put on life support at UPMC Hamot, according to the lawsuit. It said he was discharged from Hamot on May 27, 2017.

"In the era of mass incarceration, now more than ever we need to focus on just and humane treatment for incarcerated persons," O'Brien said in a statement Thursday. "We must especially ensure that pre-trial detainees in our institutional facilities do not have their constitutional rights violated by those employed to protect them, because these are people who are incarcerated while merely awaiting trial and they have not yet been convicted of any crime."

Haight in the suit requested unspecified damages at each of its three counts, which charged that his rights were violated under the 14th Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs that receive federal funding.

The lawsuit also claimed that the prison has a "widespread custom and well-settled practice" of allowing officers to use excessive force against inmates.

The incident with Haight was also at the center of the criminal probe that led to the filing of a simple assault charge against Corey A. Cornelius, a corrections officer, who was accused of kicking or attempting to kick Haight. The charge was dismissed at Cornelius' preliminary hearing in December, where surveillance video from inside the prison was presented.

Lawyers for the county and Haight ended the case by filing a joint stipulation of dismissal on Thursday. The mediation session that led to the resolution occurred on July 30, according to court records.

The county responded to the suit in court in May. It claimed Haight caused the injuries cited in his complaint.

"Plaintiff's injuries, sufferings and/or damages, were caused by his own criminal, willful, malicious misconduct and/or his own negligence and not by any Civil Rights violations," a lawyer for the county, Paul D. Krepps, of Pittsburgh, wrote in the response.

The county in the response also largely denied Haight's version of events, including his claim that he was cooperative and nonviolent.

"It is specifically denied that Plaintiff exhibited no violent behavior at all relevant times," Krepps wrote.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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