Significant Civil Rights Cases

Estate of Ceballos v. City of Thornton

HHEG brought claims against police officers and the City of Thornton for violations of Jaime Ceballos constitutional rights when officers used unnecessary and deadly force on a man who was on drugs and in a mental health crisis.

Mr. Ceballos’s wife called the police for help with her husband. When officers arrived at the house, he was alone in his own driveway talking to himself with a bat, obviously not acting normal, on drugs, and in crisis having a mental breakdown. In under one minute, the police officers greatly escalated the situation and shot and killed Mr. Ceballos, in front of his wife and their young child.

After many years of litigation, the Tenth Circuit ruled in favor of Mr. Ceballos and denied the officers qualified immunity, rejecting Defendant’s attempts to avoid a jury trial. This was a huge victory for people challenging the abusive unconstitutional actions of police officers, particularly with mentally ill people and those in crisis. The Court held that running up and screaming at Mr. Ceballos to drop the bat, refusing to give time and space, refusing to talk to family and friends on the scene, and refusing to use less lethal force establishes a Fourth Amendment Violation. A copy of this opinion can be read here.

After beginning to petition the United States Supreme Court to challenge the Tenth Circuit’s decision, the parties settled the case for $1,250,000.00. Westword and the Denver Post both published articles on these case developments which can be read here and here.

On Our Blog

City of Thornton Settles Police Shooting Death of Jaime Ceballos

Fatal Shooting of Jaime Ceballos will Proceed to Trial

Estate of Lillis v. Arapahoe County

HHEG and co-counsel represented the Estate of Jeffrey Lillis, a 37 year old man who died of untreated bacterial pneumonia on the floor of his cell. Mr. Lillis struggled with drug addiction, and was just days away from being released to a rehabilitation program from Arapahoe County jail.

Mr. Lillis’ horrifying and painful death was captured on video in the Medical Unit of the jail. Within hours after a nurse watched him cough and spit up blood, deputies and nurses found Mr. Lillis lying on the floor with only a faint pulse, blood coming out of his mouth, and surrounded by vomit. His pneumonia went untreated, festering for days until he became septic. During those days, Mr. Lillis and other inmates repeatedly begged for him to go to the hospital. did not even give him antibiotics and only provided ibuprofen. These pleas for help were ignored. Nurses Mr. Lillis was never seen by a doctor or sent to the hospital — instead, he was kept in his cell until he died.

Arapahoe County and involved staff were denied qualified immunity, and weeks before trial, Arapahoe County settled the constitutional claims for $2,450,000.00. Press coverage relating to this case includes the following articles in the Denver Post and Westword.

McGill v. Correctional Healthcare Companies, Inc, et al

Anna Holland Edwards and Erica Grossman recently won an $11,399,927 civil rights jury verdict in the Colorado Federal District Court case of Kenneth McGill v. Correctional Healthcare Companies et al. before Judge Brooke Jackson.

Ken McGill sued Correctional HealthCare (“CHC”), a private health care company hired by Jefferson County to provide medical care to inmates, Jefferson County and a charge nurse, for: 1) deliberate indifference to serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment, 2) unconstitutional policies, customs and training on the part of CHC, and 3) state law negligence.

On September 17, 2012, Ken McGill suffered a stroke in the Jefferson County jail during a Broncos Monday night football game at around 8:00 p.m. A tape recorded call between him and his wife from the jail during this time showed that he had slurred speech, told his wife he was having a stroke, that his right side was feeling numb and that he was afraid he was going to die. Other inmates clearly recognized that he was having a stroke, as can be heard on the recorded call.

He was taken to nursing in the jail just minutes after this call and immediately told the defendant nurse he was having a stroke, his right side felt dead, he could not walk right and he was slurring his speech. Involved medical workers did not believe Mr. McGill was really suffering from a stroke, saying things like: “Are you a doctor? What do you know about strokes?” Mr. McGill continued to beg her to get him to doctors at a hospital and she became upset with him for questioning her authority. Without calling a doctor, she decided the second time he came back to keep him confined overnight in a cell on the floor.

He was not transferred to the hospital until the next day, far too late for him to receive tPA medication that likely would have reversed the adverse effects of the stroke.

The trial also demonstrated a culture of assumed fakery in CHC, in which nurses are encouraged to disregard serious subjective complaints of inmates (such as “my whole right side is dead”) and diagnose outside their scope of practice without involving doctors. Other similar terrible examples of denials of serious medical care were also proven against CHC, including a CHC run jail in Tulsa where a prisoner who was complaining he had broken his neck and was paralyzed was diagnosed as merely suffering from “psychosomatic paralysis.” That patient tragically died untreated of a broken neck on a video after several days of CHC staff trying to prove he was faking his paralysis by leaving water out of reach to see if he would try to get it. Mr. McGill also proved that these customs and the deliberate indifference of the nurse were motivated by financial concerns to avoid hospitalizations for inmates.

The case has since resolved on a confidential basis.

TV and newspaper coverage of the verdict appears below:

Former Jefferson County Inmate Awarded $11 Million After Stroke

Ken McGill Awarded $11 Million in Lawsuit Over Stroke Suffered in JeffCo Jail

Federal Jury Awards Jefferson County Man $10 million over jailhouse stroke

Jury Awards 11.4 Million to former inmate who suffered a stroke in the Jefferson County Jail 

Former JeffCo inmate awarded $11M after stroke 

The original Westword Cover story of his initial lawsuit can be read here:

Ken McGill left jail behind, but he can’t escape the stroke he suffered there

Landau v. City & County of Denver, et al

In this case of racially motivated police brutality, we represented Alexander Landau, an African American college student. During a routine traffic stop, involving no serious suspected criminality, Denver Police used racial slurs and hit Mr. Landau on the head many times until he was bloodied and unconscious. Photographs of these injuries were obtained by Mr. Landau refusing to be treated until they were taken. He further reported that, as he awoke, he was called an ugly racial epithet by one of the involved officers.

The case also sought damages and an injunction to address the non-neutrality and unfounding of the Internal Affairs Bureau complaint that Mr. Landau lodged which even included asking him if he really wanted to play a “race card”. The case further alleged that there was a failed effort to cover up what happened which included an attempt to create evidence of misconduct by our client that did not occur.

In May 2011, the City Council paid $795,000.00 on behalf of all Defendants to settle with Mr. Landau. The Police Department and City also agreed, as part of the settlement, that they would re-open the IAB investigation of the involved officers in this case and complete it. The City additionally agreed to improve its procedures to ensure that serious complaints of racial discrimination against law enforcement officers are fully investigated. Further, Denver Mayor Vidal met with Mr. Landau and his family to discuss his ordeal and to further assist him with closure. See the Westword cover story on this case, Black and Blue.

Garcia v. Board of County Commissioners for Mesa County, et al

This case challenges permanent, life-altering injuries inflicted with alleged deliberate indifference by jail personnel and private health providers, as well as indifferent governmental policies on a diabetic inmate in the Mesa County Jail Detention Center. Plaintiff Garcia was admitted to the jail with a history of toe amputation. Jail nurses and sheriffs were fully aware of his chronic diabetic condition and of this amputation. To accommodate his missing big toe, Mr. Garcia had been prescribed special diabetic shoes. At the time of his incarceration, he was wearing those shoes and he explained to the workers that he had an urgent medical need for those shoes to prevent the development of new ulcers. With no medical justification and with deliberate indifference to his known serious medical needs, staff confiscated his diabetic shoes, causing him to promptly develop an ulcer on the bottom of his foot, resulting in a trans metatarsal amputation of his foot. He is now unable to work at his previous job as a machinist and is suing for damages, including punitive damages, and to reform Jail and Health Care Provider Policies for the care and treatment of diabetics in the Mesa County Detention Center.

A satisfactory confidential settlement agreement was achieved. The settlement includes significant changes in the jail intake policies and procedures to insure that inmates are given a questionnaire on arrival and immediately asked about if they have a special need for medically necessary prostheses and other medically necessary devices, including special diabetic shoes, to insure that they do not suffer preventable harm from their confiscation. The policy change provides that inmates shall be timely provided with and allowed to keep such prostheses and medically necessary devices.

Thomason v. City & County of Denver, et al

Mr. Thomason was arrested for an allegedly expired license to cultivate marijuana. He was unlawfully abused, mistreated, neglected and wrongfully imprisoned while a pre-trial detainee in the Denver Jail. Mr. Thomason cannot go without his pain and anxiety medicines as a result of his cancer, and brought his medications with him to the jail. Plaintiff was then unconstitutionally denied access to his medications despite valid prescriptions for their use by a nurse, pursuant to a deliberately indifferent jail policy, co-administered by the sheriff and Denver Department of Health and Hospitals, which jointly prohibited all narcotics in the jail. As a result of the confiscation of his medications, Mr. Thomason suffered an excruciating night of pain and had a seizure. After being released on his own recognizance, a deputy sheriff wrongfully and illegally kept Mr. Thomason in jail for hours after he was to be released.

We brought claims on behalf of Mr. Thomason under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for denial of life, bodily integrity and liberty rights under the 14th Amendment and for violation of rights not to be subjected to unlawful arrest or illegal detention.

A substantial settlement was achieved and the case was a poignant cover story feature entitled Pain Management in Westword and the City and County of Denver agreed to revise its jail narcotics policy to ensure that prisoner patients requiring such medications receive them and that officers can no longer hold prisoners after they have been judicially ordered released.

Miales v. McDonald’s Restaurants of Colorado, Inc.

438 F. Supp. 2d, 1297 (D.Colo. 2006)

Federal District Judge Walker Miller denied motion for summary judgement this punitive damages race discrimination claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 for an alleged refusal by a McDonald’s manager to sell food to or serve an African-American family. The Court held that the plaintiffs’ showing of their humiliating public racial verbal assault required a jury trial concerning the company’s intent to racially discriminate against them by interfering with their “same right as is enjoyed by white citizens” to make and enforce contracts. See the Federal Court Ruling in this case.

Guantanamo Bay Litigation

We have represented detainees who have been held for several years in Guantanamo Bay without being criminally charged and without access to Courts. We have filed habeas corpus proceedings for each of our clients.

In so doing, we have joined with what is now several hundred lawyers from large and small practices all over the country to represent the almost 300 prisoners remaining in this “prison beyond law”. We have now been to Guantanamo Bay several times.

In 2007, we traveled to Mauritania, in northwest Africa, to engage in negotiations with the Mauritanian government and candidates running for president on behalf of two of our Guantanamo clients. In September 2007, Mohammed Al Amin was released from Guantanamo Bay and flown home. He is now living free. We have written an article about this case, which was published in a book entitled The Guantanamo Lawyers Inside a Prison Outside the Law, edited by Denbeaux and Hafetz and published in November, 2009 by New York University Press. Please see our Resources and Articles page for more articles about our work at Guantanamo.

North et al v. Gilpin County, et al

Just under a million dollar settlement, accompanied by a written apology, for two first amendment protected whistleblowers who were fired after they publicly exposed malfeasance in the handling of government moneys by the Gilpin County Assessor’s office, which also resulted in the Assessor’s conviction for malfeasance and forced removal from office.

Atlantis v. Adams

This federal class action against RTD to mandate the equipping of all new buses with wheelchair accessible lifts resulted in a settlement on appeal in which RTD agreed to retrofit the well over 200 buses at issue in the lawsuit with lifts. RTD and Denver have both gone on respectively to become the most accessible transit and metropolitan areas in the nation.

Roy Smith v. Gilpin County

949 F. Supp 1498 (D. Colo. 1996)

This was an extraordinary case of alleged racial hatred and abuse, and government indifference and discrimination. The case was featured on a Friday night episode of 20/20 by Barbara Walter’s called Roy Smith’s America. It was also the subject of a documentary film by Jerry Kulhman shown at the Denver Film Society that was called Roy Smith. See a Denver Post article about the Roy Smith Case and the Federal Court decision.

Johnson v. Jefferson County Board of Health

662 P.2d 463 (Colo. 1983)

Johnson v. District Court

674 P.2d 463 (Colo. 1984)

This was a case about the firing of a public health officer for uncovering the leaking of plutonium from the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plan and publicizing the same, forestalling the development of the northern third of Jefferson county. This case was twice heard by the Colorado Supreme Court, with the court first strongly adopting the First Amendment Constitutional principle that workers cannot be terminated for whistle blowing in the public interest, and then setting the test for disqualification of judges for civil cases. See the Johnson decision establishing whistleblower rights and the Johnson decision setting the standard for disqualifying judges in civil cases.

Popovich v. Irlando 811 P.2d 379 (Colo. 1991)

This landmark case established that co-workers in Colorado can sue each other for sexual and racial harassment or discrimination or other outrageous conduct on the job without being barred by the Worker’s Compensation exclusivity rule. See the Popovich decision by the Colorado Supreme Court.

Medina v. City and County of Denver

960 F 2d 1493 (10th Cir. 1992)

This case established for the first time in Colorado that recklessly indifferent or shockingly abusive high speed chases by police are actionable under the Federal Civil Rights Act.

Daigle v. Shell

972 F. 2d 1527 (10th Cir. 1992)

This case involved the adoption of strict liability principles for the first time in an environmental pollution case in Colorado.

Brunnetti v. I.R.S.

999 F. Supp. 1408 (D.Colo. 1998)

In this case, the Court recognized the right of an I.R.S. revenue agent to sue a co-worker supervisor for outrageous sexual harassment.

ISKCON v. United Pentecostal Church

Obtained an injunction in Denver District Court against church leaders who felt they had a right to interfere with the distribution of religious literature at the airport by an Indian religious group. The church leaders were held in contempt twice before they complied.

El Fujitivo v. City of Westminster et al

Obtained an injunction and $500,000 in damages against the City of Westminster for racially targeting a Hispanic nightclub and its clientele.

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