By Keith Burton GCN 7/2/07
There has been a settlement in the $150 million lawsuit filed against Harrison County Supervisors and the Sheriff in connecting to the death of Jessie Lee Williams who was held and beaten allegedly to death in the Harrison County Jail. The county settlement requires the county to pay a total of $3.5 million. The county's insurance will pay $1 million, the other $2.5 million the county will have to borrow.
The City of Gulfport was also named in the lawsuit and it too has settled for a yet undisclosed amount.
This afternoon, GCN received word on the settlement
from District 5 Supervisor Connie Rockco. The County has been in
negotiations with the family and estate of Williams since the
incident. County supervisors have jointly issued a statement on the
settlement, which follows:
Of the Harrison County Board of Supervisors
On the 2 Day of July, 2007
Currently, Harrison County, the Sheriff and many of his Deputies are named defendants in a $150 Million lawsuit, with very serious allegations of negligence and wrongdoing, filed in the Federal District Court by the Estate of Jessie Lee Williams.
As the chief law enforcement officer of Harrison County, it is the responsibility of the Sheriff to hire personnel, and implement policies and procedures, and generally oversee the operation of the Adult Detention Center.
The Attorney General of the State of Mississippi has ruled that the only control the Board of Supervisors has over the Sheriff’s Office and the Harrison County Adult Detention Center, is through the Sheriff’s Budget. However, when lawsuits are filed against the Sheriff and /or his Deputies, whether such litigation is settled or a Judgment is obtained, it is the Board’s responsibility to find funds with which to pay the settlement or Judgment.
Over the years, to protect the tax payers of Harrison County, the Board has carried $1 Million in liability insurance to assist in covering the County’s liability where litigation is settled or a Judgment is obtained.
It has been extremely difficult to get the $1 Million liability insurance policy in the first instance, and it has been absolutely cost prohibitive to get coverage above this amount.
Therefore, that part of any settlement or judgment above $1 Million must be paid by the tax payers of Harrison County.
Over the past weeks, the Board, its attorney and its insurance representatives have been in negotiations in Federal Court with the attorneys and the representative of the Williams Estate, seeking an equitable resolution of this litigation.
The Board has carefully weighted and considered the possible exposure of the County, should this litigation go to trial, and has concluded that the best interest of the tax payers of Harrison County would be served if this litigation can be settles on an equitable basis.
A settlement with the Williams Estate has now been agreed upon and approved by the Federal Court, as it relates to Harrison County, the Sheriff, his Deputies, and any other elected official or employee of Harrison County.
There will be no admission to liability by Harrison County, the Sheriff or his Deputies. This settlement will be made to avoid possible larger financial obligations, substantial attorney’s fees and court costs.
Therefore, the Board has determined it will pay $2.5 Million plus $1 Million in insurance coverage, to the Estate of Jessie Lee Williams, for an aggregate of $3.5 Million, to fully, finally, and completely settle all claims of the Williams Estate against the County, the Sheriff, his Deputies, and any other elected official or employee of Harrison County.
Due to the depleted financial reserves of the County, as result of Hurricane Katrina, this settlement will likely be funded by a $2.5 Million Bond Issue.
`When this settlement is finalized, Harrison County, its elected officials and all employees, will be dismissed as defendants in this litigation.
The remaining Defendants will pursue their own best interests.
Hopefully, this settlement will bring some measure of closure for the family of Jessie Lee Williams, as well as the Citizens of Harrison County.
Harrison County Board of Supervisors
Larry Benefield, President
William Martine, Vice President
Jail Beating Case
Liability Exceeds Harrison County's Insurance Capacity - GCN