Guest post from Bob Holcomb, a retired political science instructor and longtime friend of the decedent’s stepfather, was present for the entirety of the trial
On Aug. 28, a jury of eight Humboldt County citizens returned a unanimous verdict in federal court that sheriff’s office correctional staff had failed to provide medical care, as required by their own written policies, for Daren Borges, who died less than two hours after his booking. The jury-determined award to his mother Stephany Borges was $2.5 million. The legal fees and expenses over the 30 months it took to bring the case to trial will likely add an additional million. Representing Humboldt County, attorney Nancy Delaney has indicated she plans to appeal to have the verdict overturned, which will add substantially more to the costs and is a very long shot at best. As the presiding trial judge stated, “Let’s just be clear, the evidence was pretty substantial in a variety of ways — as I’ve said before — so the likelihood I’m going to overturn a verdict is pretty low.” Want to try the Ninth Circuit? Good luck with that!
Admittedly the “preponderance of evidence” is a lower standard than “beyond a reasonable doubt” required in a criminal case. Nonetheless, what had to be proven in this civil case to find a defendant culpable was significant. In the jury instructions, the plaintiffs were required to prove their claim that Mr. Borges’ civil rights had been denied by demonstrating:
- The defendant made an intentional decision with respect to the conditions under which Mr. Borges was confined.
- Those conditions put Daren Borges at serious risk of suffering serious harm.
- The defendant did not take reasonable available measures to abate that risk, even though a reasonable officer in the circumstances would have appreciated the high degree of risk involved — making the consequences of the defendant’s conduct obvious; and
- By not taking such measures, the defendant caused Daren Borges injuries.
Three defendants were found responsible on all four elements; a supervisor was exonerated.
So, we have another multimillion dollar judgment against
the sheriff’s correctional staff (remember the Cotton case) arrived at by local jurors who spent four and a half days listening to testimony, viewing videos and hearing arguments before 10 hours of deliberation. They not only found three officers at fault, they also found inadequate training had been provided for the staff by the sheriff’s office.
Given said results in this federal civil rights trial, what is the response of recently appointed Sheriff Honsal? According to “Jury awards $2.5M in jail death suit” (Times-Standard, Aug. 31, Page A1), he said the correctional officers did everything they were supposed to do. The unanimous eightmember jury sure didn’t see it that way. Of course the jury heard all the evidence and saw the entire video of Daren’s time in custody whereas Honsal’s involvement in the trial was zero. The unelected sheriff said Daren would have either died in jail or on the streets with the amount of methamphetamine found inside him. Guess Mr. Honsal has more knowledge than the emergency room physician with 30 years experience who testified that had Daren received a proper evaluation at the jail intake and been sent to the hospital at that point, he would be alive today. How certain was he about that? “One hundred percent.”
Bad enough that Mr. Honsal blows off the verdict of eight attentive jurors and gives no indication any remediation is likely. He then bizarrely suggests that Stephany Borges (who is nearing 70 and lives in Albuquerque) should track down the dealer who sold the drugs to Daren! Some might think that’s your responsibility, Sheriff Honsal, not the duty of a grieving mother.