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City paid out $6.1M to settle lawsuits, claims since Jan. 2018, records show

Posted: 5:45 AM, Oct 28, 2019
Updated: 2019-10-29 00:36:24-04

INDIANAPOLIS — A Call 6 Investigation has uncovered the City of Indianapolis has paid out $6.17 million since January 2018 to settle lawsuits and claims for things like excessive force, police shootings, pothole damage, and car crashes involving city vehicles.

As part of a four-month investigation, Call 6 analyzed the more than 180 settlements the city has paid out with your tax dollars over the last year and a half.

RTV6’s Kara Kenney found convicted murderers, burglars and violent felons in prison have received those settlements after they filed claims with the city.

State prisoners receiving city settlement payouts

Marquis Lewins is a prisoner at the Correctional Industrial Facility in Pendleton.

The courts consider Lewins a serious violent felon, and he’s serving 12 years in state prison for unlawful firearm possession.

Lewins, 42, recently received a $4,000 settlement check courtesy of Marion County taxpayers.

With the help of fellow offenders at the prison, Lewins filed a federal lawsuit against the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department alleging that during a 2014 narcotics raid, an IMPD officer kicked in his teeth.

“It’s loose still and this one is kicked out,” Lewins said. “I don’t even really like talking now because my teeth are so messed up. I went through a lot.”

Lewins hoped to spend the settlement money on his teeth, but that can’t happen until he’s out of prison in 2028.

Instead, he spent your tax dollars to pay for his mom’s funeral and kept some of the settlement for himself.

“I got things I kind of needed like more hygiene, stuff like that,” Lewins said.

Lewins said he could understand why some taxpayers would be upset about felons in prison receiving settlements.

“I had jobs before and I had to pay my taxes,” Lewins said. “I wouldn’t want nobody to get no freebie off of me, and I ain’t trying to get no freebie off of anyone.”

Call 6 Investigates found at least four other examples of state prisoners who have received city settlement checks.

  • Omar Greggs — in prison for burglary, got $2,150 after he claimed IMPD wrongfully seized his money.
  • Ronald Williams — in prison for murder, got $3,500 after he said inmates assaulted him at the Marion County jail.
  • Santana Gray — in prison for murder, got $3,500 after he filed a lawsuit saying he struck a deputy in the face while at the Marion County jail and deputies retaliated by pepper spraying, kicking and stomping on him.
  • Devon Bertram — in prison on drug charges, got $8,500 after he claimed the jail failed to give him a wheelchair or proper medical care for his broken leg.

Lewins said the government should be held accountable if a person’s rights are violated.

“If you feel you in the right and they in the wrong, you need to go with what’s in your heart and just go with it,” Lewins said. “What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong.”

Call 6 Investigates sat down with Donald Morgan, corporation counsel for Indianapolis and Marion County.

“We are what most people call city legal,” Morgan said.

Morgan said any county with a jail sees a high volume of jail litigation, and that while some complaints are legitimate others you might see because offenders “have a lot of time on their hands.”

“If something happens to you that you’re entitled to receive compensation for, you’re free to file a lawsuit and your rights are protected as anyone else’s rights,” Morgan said. “In jail cases, you see a unique amount of litigation because of all the responsibilities that government has for inmates, so things like medical care and things of that nature.”

Morgan said settling complaints for a few thousand dollars can help save taxpayer money by avoiding costly litigation and jury awards.

"If we do make a mistake, whether it's in medical care, I would rather settle that case cheaply, effectively and early as opposed to going to trial and possibly losing ten times that amount of taxpayer money," Morgan said.

The Office of Corporation Counsel emphasizes just because the city reaches a settlement does not mean the city is admitting fault.

“Our job is to look out for the taxpayer,” Morgan said. “So, when we are settling a case it’s because we think we can pay an amount of money that resolves the lawsuit.”

Call 6 Investigates also reached out to the Marion County Sheriff's Office for their response to settlements resulting from prisoners who’ve claimed medical mistreatment or assault while in the Marion County jail.

Over the last 16 years, MCSO has pursued a proactive litigation prevention strategy. The strategy is based upon the solid foundation of commitment to high professional standards. Those standards are set by the American Correctional Association, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, and the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. MCSO proudly bears the “Triple Crown,” being accredited by these three independent organizations. The accreditations, coupled with zealous and strategic legal defense, have saved taxpayer money. The proof is clear to see, MCSO represents 10% of the overall annual operating budget for the City/County. However, it is responsible for only 3% of the City/County settlements and judgments. The Sheriff’s quest is the constant improvement of services, while being frugal with citizen tax dollars. MCSO is pleased with its litigation strategy which covers both bases.

Violent criminals in prison collect settlement money from City of Indianapolis

IMPD leads the way in settlements

IMPD, the city’s largest agency, leads the way in city settlements, making up one-third of all city payouts.

Agency
Settlement Count
Percent of All Settlements
(blanks)

1

0.54%

Auditor's office

1

0.54%

BNS

3

1.63%

City

23

12.50%

DCE

1

0.54%

DMD

2

1.09%

DPR

2

1.09%

DPW

52

28.26%

Election Board

1

0.54%

IACS

1

0.54%

IFD

14

7.61%

IMPD

61

33.15%

Marion Co Forensic

1

0.54%

Marion Superior Court

1

0.54%

MCSO

19

10.33%

Parks

1

0.54%

Settlements involving IMPD are also the costliest, representing $3.7 million out of the city’s $6.17 million in settlements— six out of every 10 dollars in settlements.

Call 6 Investigates reviewed every settlement the city reached since January 2018 and found the average settlement is $34,271.

The average is thrown off by the $2,150,000 paid to Gerald Cole, a person who was shot by IMPD and paralyzed .

The Aaron Bailey estate received a $650,000 settlement related to the June 2017 IMPD shooting of Bailey.

PREVIOUS | City pays $650,000 in settlement for shooting of Aaron Bailey

Other types of IMPD settlements involve car crashes, property damage and K-9 bites.

Retired postal worker files lawsuit after IMPD K-9 bit him

Retired postal worker Gordon Mitchum filed a federal lawsuit against IMPD on June 7, 2019 alleging an IMPD K-9 attacked him in his own backyard.

It was May 31, 2018 when IMPD officers were looking for carjacking suspects near Mitchum’s home on the eastside.

“The police car went by real fast, and I went to see who it was,” Mitchum said. “The dog pulled me out of the chair and I ended up flat on my back. I was hoping I wouldn’t pass out.”

Mitchum said he was terrified as the K-9 bit his leg.

“I said ‘Oh, Jesus!’” Mitchum said. “He just latched on and pulled on it.”

The lawsuit alleges excessive force and that IMPD was negligent in failing to properly train its canines.

“These dogs are out of control,” Jon Little, Mitchum’s attorney, said. “Here you have a completely innocent man who was violated by the police, who was supposed to protect him. Quite frankly, IMPD can’t control their dogs and this happens over and over again.”

Little’s law firm represented Mara Mancini, a woman who received a $90,000 settlement in December 2018 after she was mauled by an IMPD K-9.

Little said a lawsuit is the only way to help citizens recover and hold the government accountable for its mistakes.

“In Indiana, a lawsuit is your only option,” Little said.

Mitchum’s federal lawsuit is still pending, so no settlement has been reached yet.

Mitchum said he is an example of someone who deserves money for what happened to him.

“Sometimes my ankle hurts me down to where I can’t wear my shoes,” Mitchum said.

The retired postal worker still has pain and numbness in his leg more than a year after the dog bite.

He hopes to fully recover so he can go back to enjoying his retirement.

IMPD can’t comment on pending litigation, including what happened to Mitchum.

IMPD chief says settlements a “necessary evil”

Call 6 Investigates Kara Kenney sat down with IMPD Chief Bryan Roach to talk about the city spending millions of dollars on police-related settlements.

“I think it’s a necessary use (of taxpayer money),” Roach said. “I think it’s necessary because of the way we function and the difficult things that our officers do. It’s a necessary evil, but at the same time, we always should strive for taxpayer dollars going to other things that benefit citizens.”

Roach said they look at what the department could have done differently and make changes accordingly to prevent future incidents, such as K-9 bites.

RELATED | IMPD receives implicit bias training

“Sometimes those things happen, but I think it’s important that we recognize what are those damages and make it right,” Roach said. “We are looking at how we do things as a whole and how can we as an agency get better and even more professional.”

IMPD does internal investigations as needed to make sure proper use-of-force procedures are followed.

“I think that’s my responsibility,” Roach said. “We’re an agency that serves the citizens of Indianapolis and I think that’s the expectation of us is that we are the most professional and you have leadership and supervisors that are always trying to raise the bar.”

Roach said settlements related to police shootings are considered “high liability, low frequency” type cases.

IMPD has also had its academy curriculum reviewed by IUPUI legal experts to improve its procedures including search and seizure, use of force and detention.

“The ultimate goal for us would be to not be over in the federal courthouse and not having this discussion,” Roach said.

Mayor says his office has reduced litigation 43%

Man sues City of Indianapolis after police K9 bites him

Mayor Joe Hogsett said his administration has reduced the city and county’s average annual litigation expense by 43% compared to the average annual amount spent from 2011-2015.

litigation expense.png

(source: Corporation Counsel)

The Hogsett administration also provided information showing Indianapolis and Marion County have much lower litigation costs than cities like Milwaukee, Cleveland, Chicago, and Detroit.

How Indy compares to other cities on Litigation Spending (Text)

“I think Indianapolis taxpayers are getting the best bang for their buck,” Hogsett said. “We’re on the low end of the scale when you compare us to other midwestern cities.”

Hogsett said he regularly meets with corporation counsel to discuss any trends in settlements, and the city looks for ways to improve protocols or training for city employees.

“It comes down to providing the best quality of city services that you can, and part and parcel is good training and incident avoidance,” Hogsett said. “Providing better government service goes a long way to reduce accidents, negligence, and other things you get sued for.”

Hogsett said you should think twice if you’re thinking about filing a claim with the city just to make a quick buck.

Watch this clip from our interview with Mayor Joe Hogsett in which he explains how they handle potentially frivolous complaints against the city:

Mayor Joe Hogsett on city settlements

Car crashes are the most common type of settlement

Our investigation found more than half of city settlements reached since January 2018 stemmed from a car crash involving a city vehicle, including police cruisers, fire trucks and DPW trucks.

Many of the car crashes in which claims were filed against the city included injuries and property damage.

Car Crash

96

52.17%

Property Damage

37

20.11%

Excessive Force

12

6.52%

Physical Injury

9

4.89%

Dispute

5

2.72%

Note: Car crashes are all incidents involving a car hitting another car, a pedestrian or an object. Potholes have been categorized as property damage. There are some cases where multiple categories are present.

“We at any given time have hundreds of cars on the road between trash trucks, police cars, fire trucks, you name it,” Morgan said. “I don't think it's surprising we have dozens of car accidents every year."

Roach said IMPD has 1,670 officers, each with a vehicle.

“That’s their office,” Roach said. “The likelihood of being in a crash after you drive 8.5 hours a day goes up from the average commuter that goes back and forth.”

Roach said some districts are 80 square miles, and officer may travel from one end of the district to another.

The chief said it’s not always the officers’ fault.

“You can’t train citizens to be as aware as they should be,” Roach said. “That’s one thing we could probably do better as an agency is educating people that they should yield to the right. I think that would reduce the number of crashes.”

Indianapolis Man wins settlement after an IndyGo bus hits him

Roger Cave was walking to work on March 10, 2017 when an IndyGo bus hit him.

Video shows IndyGo bus hit man walking to work

The bus driver was making a turn from Meridian Street onto West Michigan Street.

“When I got the walk light, I proceed to walk across the street,” Cave said. “I vaguely remember being flung. I was expecting the bus to run over me, but thankfully that didn’t happen.”

The crash broke bones all over Cave’s body including his fingers.

“It shattered my knee, and I couldn’t stand,” Cave said.

More than two years later, he’s still recovering.

He’s not working currently, in part because of his injuries.

“I can’t even raise my arm up high anymore,” Cave said. “I can’t type with this hand.”

Cave’s attorneys with Ladendorf Law want other people to know you can fight back.

“He didn't ask to be hit by a bus, he didn't ask to have all these injuries, and he didn't ask to be put in the public eye," said Dustin Fregiato, Cave’s attorney.

Cave filed a lawsuit against IndyGo, alleging he had a walk sign and that IndyGo was negligent.

He won a $650,000 settlement to cover medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering.

Matt Bigler, an attorney with Ladendorf Law, said Roger Cave should have gotten more.

“It's hard to get a small settlement out of the government,” Bigler said. “It's hard. Their worst day is limited, and they know they have a lot of the cards and it's hard.”

If a lawsuit is filed under the Indiana Tort Claims Act, it limits what you can receive by capping settlements, jury awards and judgments at $700,000.

“The $700,000 is for everything including medical bills, lost wages, future medical bills, future pain and suffering,” Fregiato said. “It’s all one cap.”

Fregiato said state lawmakers should think about raising the cap.

“I think it’s too low,” Fregiato said. “I think the cap does a good job at attempting to protect taxpayer dollars without doing a good job of protecting its taxpayers.”

Nearly all of the city settlements reviewed by Call 6 Investigates fell below the $700,000 cap.

The one exception was the $2.15 million Gerald Cole settlement which was filed as a civil rights violation in federal court, rather than a complaint under the tort claims act.

The Indianapolis Public Transportation Corporation, branded as IndyGo, is funded in part with local property and income taxes as well as fares.

IndyGo has had 31 settlements totaling more than $1.53 million since January 2018.

“IndyGo prioritizes safety in all facets of the organization and is dedicated to training our drivers to be among the safest in the industry,” said Bryan Luellen, VP Public Affairs & Communication for IndyGo. “For all incidents involving vehicle collisions and/or personal injury, IndyGo responds with an immediate investigation, drug and alcohol screening, and employee retraining or discipline if necessary.”

RTV6 reached out to the bus driver, and we did not hear back.

She is no longer working for IndyGo, according to a spokesperson.

“I am upset I didn’t get more,” Cave said.

Call 6: Video shows IndyGo bus hit man walking to work

What do you think about settlements? Have you ever filed a claim or a lawsuit against the government? We want to hear from you. Please email kara.kenney@wrtv.com .