When Oscar Alvarez was arrested by the Newton County Sheriff's Department in December 2003 on a misdemeanor child support charge, he never expected to receive the kind of treatment reserved for murderers and child molesters in bad B movies.
That is exactly what he claims took place.
In a lawsuit filed Nov. 22 in Newton County Circuit Court, Alvarez claims that on Feb. 22, 2004, jailers Adam Brandon Babbitt and Shane Steven Smith, arranged for his brutal beating at the hands of another prisoner.
The complaint and the response to it were filed today in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. In the response, Kristen Baird Roubal, attorney for former Newton County Sheriff Ron Doerge and the Sheriff's Department, claimed it did not happen and, if it did, it was against Sheriff Doerge's policy.
The claim that it did not happen comes despite Doerge's firing of the the two deputies because of their involvement in the incident. According to an article written by former Joplin Globe reporter Dena Sloan in that newspaper's March 19, 2004, edition, Doerge said he called Babbitt and Smith into his office at 4:30 p.m. March 18 and fired them. The article reads, "He said the Sheriff's Department investigation had linked the men with a Feb. 22 incident in which two male inmates allegedly were attacked by two other inmates."
The two former deputies were charged with misdemeanor third degree assault, then later the charges were amended to felonies. Though Alvarez was not named by Doerge, the sheriff said the victim of the beating had a black eye and bruises, according to the Globe article.
Though Doerge and his attorney dispute the allegation that the cameras were turned off saying they are "without adequate knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the factual allegations," Doerge's own investigation into the beating showed that the cameras had been deliberately turned off, he told The Globe. The article reads, "After reviewing jail security tapes and interviewing inmates, investigators determined that the security camera pointed at the alleged victims' cell had been turned off for a few minutes during the time of the attack, Doerge said. Investigators also believe that the cell door was unlocked when it should have been secured.
In a direct quote in the Globe article, Doerge said, "One of the officers talked to the inmates about what he wanted to occur, and the second turned off the tape and opened the door."
In the official response to the lawsuit, Doerge claimed that he was "without adequate knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the factual allegations" in regard to that, as well.
The claim that Doerge did not have adequate knowledge comes despite the fact that both Babbitt and Smith entered Alford pleas, which are not guilty pleas, but act in the same fashion. Alford pleas are not an admission of guilt, but an acknowledgment that there is enough evidence to convict if the case went to trial.
Whereas most prisoner lawsuits are filed pro se, or by the prisoners themselves, the Alvarez case, despite the fact that he was sentenced to jail time served due to lack of funds, is being handled by Steven J. Blair of the high-powered Springfield litigation firm of Hall, Ansley, Rodgers & Condry, P. C.
In the petition, Blair claims that Babbitt and Smith unlocked Alvarez' cell door, turned off the video surveillance cameras monitoring his cell or arranged for them to be turned off, then "unlocked the cell doors of two other inmates or arranged for their cell doors to be unlocked: and allowed one of the inmates to stand watch while another inmate entered Mr. Alvarez's cell and attacked (him) causing him serious bodily injury."
Blair claims that the jailers were acting in their capacity as Sheriff's Department employees, making the sheriff "vicariously liable for their actions."
As a result of the attack, the petition said, Alvarez received injuries to his head and face "and has suffered and will continue to suffer from severe headaches, back injuries and brain damage."
Blair also claims that Alvarez has suffered "emotional distress, inasmuch as he was caused to fear for his life following the attack."
The attack constituted cruel and unusual punishment, Blair said.
Alvarez did not file a grievance through the sheriff's department, the complaint says, "for the reason that the grievance form would be received by the same people allowing Mr. Alvarez to be assaulted, and that Mr. Alvarez feared for his life," the petition said.
In the second count of the complaint, Blair says Doerge and the other top officials at the Sheriff's Department should have known "of the dangerous proclivities of Mr. Babbitt and/or Mr. Smith," yet nothing was done.
On both counts, Alvarez is asking for "fair and reasonable" damages, and interest "at the highest legal rate permitted by law." He is asking for a jury trial.
Doerge's lawyer, Ms. Roubal, says that the lawsuit against the former sheriff is barred because of his official immunity, qualified immunity, and sovereign immunity and that even if the allegations about Babbitt and Smith are accurate "then such conduct would not be consistent with the policies of the county and the sheriff."
She also claims that the Sheriff's Department cannot be sued because it is not a separate entity and that it is part of Newton County.
Otherwise, Doerge denied every item alleged in the Alvarez complaint.