Bradley County ordered to pay $5.9M to settle suit; defendants deny wrongdoing

Defendants deny wrongdoing, were sued for allegedly providing deficient inmate medical care

Staff Photo by Ben Benton / The Bradley County Jail in Cleveland is shown Oct. 12.
Staff Photo by Ben Benton / The Bradley County Jail in Cleveland is shown Oct. 12.

Bradley County will spend $5.9 million to settle a lawsuit that claims the county jail neglected inmates' medical needs.

The defendants named in the federal class action lawsuit — county government and Sheriff's Office personnel — have been ordered to pay a $2.1 million settlement to the former inmates or their estates, put another $3.8 million into a fund to pay future inmate claimants and sustain a $275,000 annual budget increase for medical staffing at the Bradley County Jail.

The settlement claims it is necessary to increase the budget due to years of deficient medical care at the jail.

Plaintiff Darrell Eden filed the initial lawsuit as a proposed class action lawsuit in 2018 alleging violations of his constitutional rights at the jail. He filed the suit against Bradley County, then-Sheriff Eric Watson, Capt. Gabriel Thomas, former Sheriff Steve Lawson and Capt. Jerry Johnson.


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In the settlement and throughout the litigation, the Bradley County defendants admit no wrongdoing, records state. Bradley officials had no comment when contacted Wednesday.

"This matter is still pending," Sheriff's Office spokesperson Sgt. Robert Jones said via email. "Therefore, the Bradley County Sheriff's Office is unable to comment at this time."

(READ MORE: Daughters of slain retired Bradley County jail officer suing for $4 million, claiming wrongful death)

Eden's action was joined in July 2021 by plaintiffs Randy Bacon, the estate of Christopher Brown, the estate of Martin Chouinard, Sandra Culbertson, the estate of Denise Culpepper, Laura Fuller, the estate of Brandon Gash, Benjamin Newton Hannah, Kris Holder, Amanda Lennie, Shelby Long, Tera Miller, Bryan Wampler, Sharon Waters, Avery L. Sharp, Chelsea Coulter, Kendra Mickel and Zachary Guinn, and all unknown members of the class action who can prove they are due compensation.

The plaintiffs alleged in the suit that Bradley County knowingly maintained a system of inmate health care at the Bradley County Jail that fell below the constitutional minimum, which subjected all inmates to a substantial risk of serious harm. The deficient system of health care resulted in Eighth Amendment and/or 14th Amendment injuries to those inmates listed in the suit and to an unknown number of additional inmates, the lawsuit states.

The settlement was reached during court-ordered mediation between the parties, records state. A hearing to approve terms of the settlement was held Nov. 16 in U.S. District Judge Christopher H. Steger's court.

In Eden's initial suit, Chattanooga Times Free Press archives show his attorneys claimed he was denied medical care while incarcerated, which worsened the seven broken ribs, one broken ankle and a broken finger he suffered in a car crash. Court records state the 20 other plaintiffs were added after when class action status was granted in 2021 due to similar allegations, claims and defendants. The class action also includes an unknown number of other inmates in the jail after Sept. 17, 2017, who now can seek part of settlement funds.

(READ MORE: Bradley County, Tenn., agrees to pay children of man who hanged himself in jail)

The settlement was in Bradley County's best interest because "it resolves vigorously defended lawsuits with substantial litigation risk and provides agreed-upon injunctive relief and direct compensation in the form of payments to members of the class action that range from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars," court records state. "The settlement is also in the best interest of the defendants because it resolves complex and vigorously contested litigation that has been pending for almost five years and allows the defendants to avoid the necessity, risk and expense associated with the pending substantial litigation."

Contact Ben Benton at [email protected] or 423-757-6569.

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