The mother of a Utah State Prison inmate who died after being strapped in a restraint chair for 16 hours will receive $200,000 to drop her lawsuit against the state.
Angela Armstrong said in her lawsuit that her son, Michael D. Valent, 29, died last year because of the "negligence" and "deliberate indifference" of corrections officers and medical personnel.Valent, a diagnosed schizophrenic, was removed from his cell on March 19, 1997, following an alleged confrontation with officers who demanded he remove a pillow case from his head.
According to Armstrong's suit, Valent was stripped, handcuffed and shackled into the chair. The long spell of complete immobilization caused blood clots that claimed his life the following day.
The incident sparked months of controversy and investigations that contributed to a management shake-up in the Utah Department of Corrections, including the resignation of its executive director, O. Lane McCotter. Also, the prison stopped using the restraint chair.
Attorney Ross C. Anderson said Armstrong accepted the settlement because the litigation had achieved its goal of getting at the truth and bringing about change in the way mentally impaired inmates are treated at the prison.
"We wanted to expose not only what happened to Michael but to other mentally ill inmates at the prison, and we wanted to make certain things changed," Anderson said. "I think we're seeing that, particularly with Pete Haun as executive director."
While agreeing to the settlement to avoid the much higher cost of continued litigation, the state did not admit any wrongdoing. Anderson said settlement negotiations are also under way with the manufacturer of the chair, AEDEC International, Inc.
According to the lawsuit's claim against the manufacturer, "The chair was inherently dangerous when used as it was intended to be used, including the long-term restraint of individuals."
Despite the settlement with the state, both parties were back in U.S. District Court Friday morning arguing over nine affidavits and a videotape that Anderson added to the case file.
The affidavits contain the statements of other mentally ill inmates who were put into the restraint chair at times and a medical expert refuting state evidence. The video shows Valent being strapped into the chair.
State attorneys asked Senior Judge Bruce Jenkins to seal those affidavits and videotape, a move Anderson strongly contested.
"We want to make certain that the permanent record contains the information in those affidavits," Anderson said. "The state wants it sealed because it doesn't want the truth to come out."