FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — As settlements go, the $15,000 payout to a 55-year-old woman whose leg was broken at the Allen County Jail is high for the county.
On Friday, county attorney Spencer Feighner told WANE 15 at the Allen County Commissioners’ weekly meeting that while there have been higher monetary settlements, this one is one of the more costly. The settlement was unanimously approved.
Each year, the county can count on a dozen suits concerning treatment at the jail.
Spencer Feighner, county attorney, at mic and Barker affidavit
Renee Barker, whose address lies in the 46803 area zip code, according to court documents, was arrested nearly two years ago for drunk driving on Kensington Boulevard at Cody Avenue around 7:30 p.m. She got stuck in the snow, smelled like alcohol; was argumentative and angry and her clothing soiled. She also struck three parked vehicles and left the scene, court documents said. She refused to take a test for alcohol, so no reading was included in a police report.
Barker’s charges included a criminal misdemeanor for operating a vehicle while intoxicated and three lesser misdemeanors for leaving the scene of an accident.
It would have been a routine OWI save for what happened at the jail, and that is disputed. Barker’s attorney, Sam Bolinger, wrote in a complaint filed in March 2021 that her treatment during the booking process violated her rights and that the confinement officers used malfeasance and excessive force, causing her severe damages and injury. Not only was her leg broken, but now she is required to use a walker.
Feighner said injuries could have occurred because she was in a car crash. But the risk involved in pursuing the case, made it prudent to pay it off.
“With every case, we have to evaluate it individually,” Feighner said. “This particular one, Ms. Barker presents with a real, cognizable injury that is serious. She incurred a lot of medical bills for treatment of that injury. Unlike some of our other cases where it’s truly a bump on the leg or something like that, this is not that case.
“We obviously heavily dispute how that injury occurred and there is the real possibility that it occurred prior to her incarceration at the jail, but we can’t get a definitive answer on that medically, so there’s risk involved, and the risks certainly exceed the value of this settlement, so we think it’s a prudent thing to do,” Feighner added.
According to the affidavit, Barker attempted to use the Lock-up phone to speak with jail staff during the booking and tapped on the window to let them know the phone wasn’t working. That apparently infuriated staff “who came into where Ms. Barker was and grabbed her and smashed her to the concrete floor,” the affidavit reads.
In an amended complaint, two officers are named: Corporal Gary App and Kameehah West
After being smashed to the floor, Barker reportedly landed on her left side, injuring her left knee. Her head hit the concrete floor, but she didn’t lose consciousness. Barker didn’t confront or challenge the officer and notified the jail officers and medical staff, the affidavit said. She was placed on a wooden bench until the Three Rivers Ambulance Authority was called because she couldn’t walk.
Barker was taken to a hospital and then to Lutheran’s orthopedic hospital, spending three days in hospital care because of a broken tibial plateau, or a break in the lower leg. She then spent time in rehab, the affidavit said. Barker wasn’t criminally charged for any of her actions at the jail that night, nor did she threaten the confinement officer described as six foot three inches in height and weighing 240 pounds.
A metal plate was installed in Barker’s leg. The suit says her medical bills amounted to $80,000 and she lost time from work.
If that is true, $15,000 makes a small dent in her overall expenses. Feighner said the county took into account the risk and the severity of the injury, without taking blame for it.
“Every case has risk. The vast majority of our cases have a risk involved where we lose, we owe the plaintiff side’s attorney fees and that can easily exceed $30,000, $40,000, $50,000. So while the risk for a judgment may not be that high, the risk – when it does happen and it does happen unfortunately – we’ve got a very good track record since we’ve had that happen. It’s something we have to factor into every decision we have to make.
Feighner said $15,000 was higher than most.
“We’ve had settlements higher than this in the past, but this is a significant one with significant risks, so we thought it prudent to settle with this amount,” Feighner said.
According to court documents, in August 2021, Barker was sentenced to 60 days confinement at the jail with 50 of those days suspended and credit for time served. By March 2022, documents indicated she successfully completed an alcohol countermeasures program.