Roberts v. Jefferson County, et. al. Case Study
Roberts v. Jefferson County, et. al. Cause No. 1:08-cv-406 in the United States Federal Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Beaumont Division
Result: Verdict for Plaintiff in the amount of $16,050,870 January 2011
Mr. Roberts was taken to the Jefferson County Jail for unpaid parking tickets in April of 2007. While being booked in, he was assaulted by Officer Cole and received injuries to his face that required stitches. While he was being bonded out to get medical treatment, he was again assaulted by a Jefferson County Jailer, Officer Vickrey. Following the assaults, the Sergeant on duty high-fived another officer.
Originally, Mr. Merman sued both offending officers and the County for which they worked for the assaults on Mr. Roberts. Mr. Merman believed that he had built a strong case that the assaults were “custom and practice” at the Jefferson County jail. In addition to eliciting testimony to that end from several witnesses, the video of the assaults (captured on the Jail’s closed-circuit television) showed a total lack of surprise from the dozen or so officers that witnessed the assaults.
Jefferson County, with the law on its side, move for summary judgment on Mr. Merman’s claims against the County. Its argument was that the officers were acting on their own and that the County was ignorant of what was going on at the Jail. Mr. Merman argued that the practice of abusing inmates, as shown in the video and by the reactions of the officers, was so widespread and pervasive that it had the effect of tacit approval by the County Supervisors and the sheriff. Basically, if someone in charge does not enforce the rules, then the rule is “there are no rules.”
The Judge granted the County’s Motion for Summary Judgment, despite the fact that there was (in Mr. Merman’s opinion) at least a fact issue as to whether or not the County should have known of what was going on at the Jail they were in charge of. But that did not stop Mr. Merman. He and his partner, Robert Luke, tried the case to the Jury and received a verdict of over $16,000,000.
When the verdict against the police officers showed how important this issue was to the citizens of Jefferson County, Mr. Merman appealed the Judge’s dismissal. Never one to go down without a fight, Mr. Merman faced off against the County in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on May 1, 2012. Listen to his argument below.
Derek Merman Oral Argument - Joseph Roberts v. Rodney Cole, II, et al
There was no question the law and deck were stacked against Mr. Merman at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Although, Mr. Merman thought he might have a chance after the Chief Justice’s comment near the end of the argument. But, ultimately, the Court of Appeals upheld the verdict. But that was not the end for Mr. Merman. He filed a petition for a writ to the U.S. Supreme Court, which you can read here.