After 10 days in front of a jury in Federal Court, the City has settled a four-year-old civil lawsuit for $1.75 million – the highest settlement ever given by the City – in a case where it was alleged a handful of Revere Police officers showed callous indifference to a suicidal man – a man who, allegedly due to poor oversight, rendered himself permanently brain damaged while in the custody of Revere Police and Whidden Hospital officials.
The man had already settled with a Whidden physician at the outset of the trial for $2 million. The case was originally filed with a demand for $9.99 million.
“The case has been settled and we believe it is very favorable to our client,” said Attorney Austin Freeley, who represented David Macharia (who is incapacitated) and his wife, Leonora. “The Macharia family has reached a settlement with the City of Revere for $1.75 million during the tenth day of trial in the (case). This represents the largest settlement of this type in the history of Revere. The family had also reached a settlement with the Emergency Department physician for $2 million at the beginning of the trial. The total settlement came to $3.75 million.”
Most City officials remained mum about the case, including several City Councillors who had met in executive session last week to discuss the case. After the settlement on Monday, most still didn’t have much to say.
Mayor Dan Rizzo said he would have liked to fight the case, believing that the police had not made such a costly mistake. However, given the circumstances, he said settling was the prudent thing to do.
“Obviously my knee-jerk reaction was to fight this case all the way to appeal if necessary,” he said. “However, considering the damages being sought by the plaintiff – which were up to $9 million – and the personal culpability that was hanging over the heads of the officers involved, I believe we made the best decision we could have under the circumstances.”
After several years of legal maneuvering, and quite a bit of kicking the can down the road by the prior City administration, the case came to a head in the last weeks of March when it proceeded to a jury trial in Boston’s Federal Court. The City was represented by Attorney Ira Zaleznik, who often represents the City on Constitutional matters. Police officers in the matter were represented by police union attorney Mike Akerson.
Some 10 days of jury selection and witness examination went by in the last few weeks as the plaintiffs built a compelling argument. This past Monday, Freeley rested his case.
And at that point the City folded its cards, handing over $1.75 million to make the case go away and to prevent a more costly outcome.
Police officers named in the case were former Chief Terence Reardon, Lt. John Goodwin, Sgt. John Nelson, Officers Robert Impemba, Daryle Lamonica, Louis Larosa, and Patrick Dusseault.
“The conduct of the municipality and its police officer defendants constitutes a deprivation of the civil rights of David Macheria as guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America,” read the most recent court complaint by Macharia. “Defendants Phyllis Chen, Jane Lynn Murphy, and AMN Healthcare and its staff also breached their duty of care toward David Macharia when they negligently and carelessly discharged David Macharia in a manner which resulted in his severe and permanent injuries.”
The case alleged that the Revere Police had no written policies/procedures regarding suicide prevention of inmates, that no police officer had ever been investigated or disciplined in the case, that an automatic punch clock to record monitoring of prisoners did not work, and that an ambulance took more than an hour to respond to the station – making the defendant’s condition allegedly much worse had he gotten immediate attention.
According to the facts set out in a statement released Tuesday by Freeley, the situation began on Feb. 23, 2007 when Macharia, now 33, was arrested by Revere Police in a domestic assault on his wife.
At the time, the Revere Police were located in the old police station on Pleasant Street, and Macharia was taken there to be held.
Lt. Goodwin screened Macharia for suicidal tendencies when he was booked for the crime, and Macharia told police that he had tried to commit suicide previously. He also told officers he was on medications and was under psychiatric care, and it was noted on his booking sheet that he was “suicidal.”
However, according to Freeley, not much was done after that to keep Macharia safe.
Later that evening, officers heard a sound in the jail cells and found Macharia on his back. He had apparently jumped off the toilet and gone head first into the floor in an attempt to hurt himself. It was noted that he had tried to hurt himself, and an ambulance report indicates he said he wanted to kill himself.
At the Whidden Hospital in Everett, Freeley noted that Macharia complained of paralysis due to the jump from the toilet. The triage report from the hospital indicated Macharia was thinking about suicide and had a prior mental health history. However, when tests and X-rays came back normal, Macharia was discharged back to police custody, although he had a small contusion on his scalp.
Macharia was placed back into a cell at 5:30 a.m., but was apparently not put on suicide watch. Officers noted that Macharia was on the ground for most of the day, and they also noted they heard Macharia banging and throwing himself around his cell.
“At 9:45 p.m., he was found lying on the ground, unresponsive, with phlegm and French fries around his mouth,” Freeley’s statement read. “Despite the clear need of medical aid, the EMTs were not dispatched until 10:10 p.m. According to the information given by police officers to the EMTs, Mr. Macharia had been ‘rolling and moaning on the floor for over one hour.’ Mr. Macharia was taken to the MGH suffering from a severe traumatic brain injury. According to the physician at the MGH, police officers indicated that he had repeatedly jumped onto the ground in his cell ‘at least 10 times.’”
The case alleged that Macharia’s brain injuries would have been far less serious had he been properly supervised and had medical aid been sent immediately.
However, the City filed a response on Monday indicating that the facts weren’t exactly as presented by Freeley.
“Lt. Goodwin returned as officer in charge on Sunday night on the 4 p.m. to midnight shift,” read the filing. “At this point, Mr. Macharia was (suicidal) and the Lt. confirmed that the monitors were locked on and they gave Macharia close watch. Lt. Goodwin also opened the cell door, checking in on and speaking with Macharia during the shift, providing options of getting out of the cell for air, washing face and getting water…Plaintiff played some audio tap recordings of Lt. Goodwin, but the contents thereof do not reflect any such improper conduct which is tantamount of deliberate indifference. Simply put, plaintiffs’ evidence falls short of this high evidentiary standard and it cannot be said that Lt. Goodwin acted with ‘willful blindness’ towards Macharia.”
The filing also indicated that the City should not be held responsible for Macharia’s actions.
“Plaintiff’s proof is inadequate both as to policies and customs, as well as causation,” read the filing.
Macharia is presently living in a nursing home, and will need skilled nursing assistance for the rest of his life, Freeley said.