MANSFIELD — Kenneth Puckett and his mother, Melinda Puckett, received a $325,000 settlement agreement Nov. 11 from Richland County.
The claim was made by a civil rights attorney after four Richland County Sheriff’s corrections officers left Kenneth Puckett, then a 17-year-old inmate, in the recreation area of the Richland County Jail with two overhead doors open during extremely cold temperatures for about 2 1/2 hours. The incident was captured on video Jan. 26, 2011.
An internal investigation revealed Puckett also was slapped on the head by a Richland County corrections officer while in custody Dec. 31, 2010. The date of that incident was cited in the settlement agreement.
Kenneth Puckett later was convicted of felonious assault and aggravated burglary. He is in Mansfield Correctional Institution, serving an 11-year sentence.
According to the settlement agreement, which the News Journal obtained through a public records request, the Pucketts were represented by Chesterland, Ohio, attorney David B. Malik.
Since Jan. 1, 2010, Richland County has awarded seven out-of-court settlements through the County Risk Sharing Authority. Of those, Puckett’s was the largest payout. David Brooks, the authority’s managing director for property and casualty insurance, said it’s not unusual for the authority to pay a settlement without a lawsuit being filed.
He said the authority handles claims in three ways:
» A claimant may contact the county and explain what happened and request the county compensate them.
» A claimant may contact an attorney, and the attorney may contact the county without filing a lawsuit.
» A claimant’s attorney may file a lawsuit on behalf of a claimant.
Richland County Commissioner Ed Olson said commissioners are given a full briefing on any litigation and settlement options. Sometimes it’s more cost-effective to settle than to fight, he said, even if the county feels it has done nothing wrong.
“To take it through to a full trial will cost you even more than the settlement,” he said.
Richland County Sheriff J. Steve Sheldon concurred with that strategy.
“It’s not unusual for attorney fees and major cases to exceed a hundred thousand dollars,” Sheldon said. “There’s a lot of times I would like to be like (the late) Paul Harvey and tell you ‘the rest of the story.’ Most of the time the attorneys don’t want us to make any comments and they just want it to go through the legal system and they feel it’s the best way to handle it.
“In a very few cases, I sometimes feel for the people filing the lawsuit, and I understand where they’re coming from,” Sheldon said. “In general terms, the defendant’s attorney generally names everybody under the sun in the lawsuit, and in many of the instances many of the people had nothing at all to do with the case.”
Settlements alone do not have an immediate impact on the county’s insurance premium.
“Richland County is self-insured as a member of the County Risk Sharing Authority, along with about 62 other counties,” Olson said. “The program sets premiums for each member county by looking at a five-year trend and not simply by reacting to a single year’s claims.”
The county’s premium will be $581,286 for 2012, as opposed to $561,828 in 2011, Brooks said.
Commissioners increased the county’s deductible last year from $2,500 to $10,000.
“The entire CORSA premium for 2012 is $581,286, but the general fund does not pay all of it,” Olson said. “Last year we paid $474,952. With a 3.35 percent increase for 2012, the expected premium for the general fund should be $490,862.89.”
When the risk sharing authority was formed in 1988, the premium was $450,000. By 1991, the premium was reduced to $350,000.
Kenneth Puckett’s attorney, Debbie Mack, asked the News Journal to wait to publish the story about Puckett receiving a $325,000 settlement to allow her to have him moved from MANCI to another correctional facility. According to a motion Mack filed in Richland County Common Pleas Court last month, Puckett is being denied food on weekends at the Ohio 13 North prison when administration is not present. The motion also alleges he is being given an unprescribed medication by staff.
Friday, Mack said MANCI has put her request to have Puckett moved “on the fast track.”
Mike Davis, a spokesman for the Ohio Department or Rehabilitation and Correction, said there are no reports of maltreatment of Puckett. For security reasons, Davis said he cannot confirm whether or not Puckett is being moved, citing security concerns. Puckett’s mother, Melinda, could not be reached for comment.
Three days after the Pucketts received their settlement, Yvonia Faye Jackson and Rashod Sewell, both of 257 E. Second St., filed a civil suit against Kenneth Puckett seeking compensatory damages in excess of $25,000 — along with punitive damages. Jackson was at the 122 Washington Ave. residence with Puckett and Puckett’s co-defendant, Marquis Jaron Martin. She was shot in the eye.