King County has agreed to pay $1.25 million to settle a lawsuit filed by a formerly jailed man who was severely beaten in his sleep by a man who was placed into general population despite being in what a doctor described as a "meth-fueled rampage."
Abdiwali Musse suffered broken bones in his face, broken teeth and a traumatic head injury when he was attacked early Nov. 1, 2015, by Carl Alan Anderson, a man with mental illness and a criminal history who had been booked for attacking a stranger in downtown Seattle. Musse had been booked hours earlier, for the first time in his life, for investigation of drunken driving.
According to witness statements, Anderson had been in the 9-south pod of general population at the King County Jail for less than 20 minutes before he attacked Musse, who was sleeping on a bunk. The witnesses said Anderson had been pacing around "speaking of demons that ordered him to hurt someone" just before the attack.
Musse alleged negligence and argued that the attack "was completely preventable." His Seattle attorney, Jay Krulewitch, said his client was the victim of a "perfect storm of individual and policy-level failures" at the jail, including the fact that the jail's computer system — which contained information about Anderson's violent past in jail — was down for refitting, that video of the incident was destroyed and that the jail health services nurses didn't pass along crucial information to the officers who booked him.
Musse declined to be interviewed.
"The King County Jail failed to take heed of all of the red flag warnings regarding the danger and likely harm posed to others by the perpetrator in this incident," Krulewitch said. "There were a series of policy failures which occurred in this matter which never should have occurred."
The lawsuit also alleged the jail failed to properly investigate the assault and destroyed video evidence officials knew should have been preserved.
"This incident need not have happened and should not have happened," he said.
Noah Haglund, a spokesperson for King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention, said the failure to retain video evidence of the assault was an "oversight" and pointed out that Anderson was eventually convicted of assault.
He said that the decision to place Anderson in general population "was consistent" with the department's policies.
Anderson was first booked the evening of Oct. 31 after he punched a stranger in the face outside a business on Virginia Street. When he was arrested, the police officer and witnesses said he had not only assaulted someone he didn't know but also smashed his own face into the sidewalk. He was covered in self-inflicted injuries when taken to the jail, which initially rejected him and told arresting officers to take him to Harborview Medical Center to be examined before he could be booked.
At the hospital, according to court pleadings, Dr. Matthew Beecroft noted that Anderson had been arrested after a "proximally 30-hour meth-fueled rampage," noting that he was delusional and that "the patient believes [he is] at Thanksgiving he is also convinced that his family is with him," according to the pleadings.
Beecroft released Anderson only because he was going to jail, otherwise he would have been admitted to the hospital as a likely threat to himself or others, the lawsuit said.
Back at the jail, however, the lawsuit alleges the Jail Health Services nurse who screened Anderson failed to notify booking officers of the doctor's concerns and claims the nurse inadequately screened him for mental illness. The lawsuit also claimed the nurse mistakenly believed that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act prevented him from passing on the concerns about Anderson's mental state and that he did not take into account the crime for which Anderson had been booked.
The lawsuit alleges Anderson should have been isolated in the jail's mental health wing, but instead he was placed into general population, where he almost immediately assaulted Musse, who had to be taken to the hospital for treatment of his injuries.
Anderson was eventually charged with a felony assault; however, court records show it took nearly three years to obtain a conviction because he was admitted to Western State Hospital for being mentally incompetent to stand trial.
U.S. District Judge John Coughenour sanctioned the county for destroying video of the incident, which by policy should have been saved to document the assault. Coughenour said the county was by policy obliged to keep the video, finding that the county should have anticipated the litigation, as well as recognize its importance as evidence in any criminal investigation.
The lawsuit claims the investigation that was undertaken was shoddy, and the judge agreed and found that the "spoliation" of the video evidence was intentional and that the county had a "duty to preserve the footage before its destruction."
"The county offers no explanation for why it did not follow its own record-retention policy," the judge wrote. "The county's investigator did not photograph Musse's injuries, interview any inmates who witnessed the attack, or ask jail staff whether there was photo of video evidence."
Coughenour concluded the county's fault "is significant" and "the prejudice to Musse is severe." The judge — who had ordered the case to trial on Dec. 6 before the settlement was reached — concluded that, as a penalty for these lapses, he would instruct the jury that the county failed to preserve the video evidence and that the jurors could assume "that the footage would have tended to corroborate the plaintiff's evidence and to undermine any contrary evidence."