Madison - St. Clair Record

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Former prisoner physically abused at Chester awarded $450K at retrial; First jury awarded $5

Federal Court

By The Madison County Record | Dec 16, 2019


BENTON – Jurors in U.S. district court assessed $450,000 against Chester Mental Health Center on a former prisoner’s physical abuse claim that a previous jury valued at $5. 

They awarded Christopher Novus Davis $300,000 in punitive damages and $150,000 in compensatory damages on Dec. 10. 

District Judge Staci Yandle held trial on damages because she couldn’t reconcile the first jury’s finding of liability for physical abuse with a minimal award. 

Davis has been free since January, according to the firm that represented him. 

He sued the mental health center, Lucas Nanny, Tom Nordman, Josh Rackley, and Terry Steward in 2013. 

He requested counsel, and the court recruited Christopher Iaria of Naperville. 

The clerk encouraged Iaria to enter into a fee contract, noting that he must deduct expenses from the recovery if he should win or settle. 

Iaria accepted and shaped the suit into a proper complaint in 2014. 

He alleged that defendants deliberately, willfully, and maliciously attacked and beat Davis in a location off camera. 

He wrote that they slammed him to the ground, choked him, and battered him, and that they deliberately or recklessly failed to act for his protection. 

He alleged improper supervision and oversight against the mental health center. 

He wrote that the unit manager was on vacation or absent. 

District Judge Phil Gilbert set trial for October 2016, but the clerk reassigned the suit to Yandle in June of that year. 

She set trial date in October 2017, but Iaria moved to withdraw in September. 

Magistrate Judge Reona Daly held a hearing, and Davis stated from Dixon Correctional Center that Iaria didn’t seek necessary discovery. 

She granted withdrawal but expressed dismay and found it unclear whether Iaria conducted necessary discovery. 

Yandle delayed trial to January 2018, and in 10 days the court recruited Daniel Spira and Elizabeth Chiarello of Sidley Austin in Chicago. 

Spira moved to reopen discovery, claiming Iaria didn’t take depositions or obtain medical records and other pertinent documents. 

Daly granted it in November 2017, and Yandle set trial in March 2018. 

She delayed it two months due to a calendar conflict, and brought it to jurors in May 2018. 

They held defendants liable, and they assessed $1 in compensatory damages and $1 in punitive damages against Nanny, Nordman, Rackley, and Steward. 

Spira moved for new trial or trial on damages. 

Yandle granted trial on damages this March, finding no reasonable jury could conclude that Davis’s injuries had no monetary value. 

She found it clear from the verdict that the jury credited Davis’s version of events. 

“The jury also found that each defendant knew at the time that these actions constituted excessive force but failed to intervene,” Yandle wrote. 

She found undisputed evidence that Davis suffered injuries from use of force; that a knot behind an ear and handprints on the neck were consistent with his description of the excessive nature of the force; that the injuries couldn’t have come from handcuffing and holding him; and that by awarding punitive damages, they necessarily concluded that defendants engaged in malicious conduct or with reckless disregard for Davis’s safety and rights.  

She set trial this Dec. 9, and no further delay occurred. 

Defendants didn’t disclose witnesses in a timely fashion, and they pleaded a week before trial that they relied on witness disclosures from the first trial. 

Yandle excluded the witnesses, finding defendants offered no justification “other than a mistaken and unsupported belief that disclosures made prior to the first trial are sufficient.” 

“They are not,” she wrote. “This case is set for a new trial, not merely a continuation of the previous trial.” 

She found the trial would focus on damages, and testimony of witnesses from the first trial would be irrelevant and immaterial. 

Trial started on Dec. 9, a Monday, and testimony concluded. 

Spira argued for Davis on Tuesday morning, and Christine McClimans argued for state attorney general Kwame Raoul. 

Jurors retired at 9:49 a.m., and returned with a verdict for Davis at 10:36 a.m. 

The docket shows his residence as Waukegan. 

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