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$600,000 settlement reached in Shenandoah inmate death suit

A settlement has been reached for a Pennsylvania wrongful death claim brought by the parents of a man who died in jail. The $600,000 settlement comes nearly six years after the Shenandoah man's parents accused borough and police officials with the beating death of their son.

The wrongful death suit requested a jury trial and damages of at least $150,000, including punitive damages plus legal costs. A judge in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania decided last winter that evidence was plentiful enough to warrant a trial, which was scheduled to begin next month.

According to the coroner's office and police officials, the man who died in 2004 committed suicide in a holding cell. The civil suit alleges Shenandoah police beat the suspect to death and suspended the man's body from cell bars to make it appear the suspect hanged himself.

The truth about the inmate's death is no longer expected to be determined in a courtroom. The settlement, mediated during what was intended to be a pre-trial meeting, places no blame on the accused borough, an ex-police chief or a former borough captain.

A federal judge dismissed the court action without costs or prejudice to the right of either part.

The case could be revived, if Shenandoah borough officials fail to pay the $600,000 settlement within 60 days. Borough council must approve the payment, which would be made by an insurer, the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Risk Management Association.

The borough settled out of court with parents who believed their son's legal rights had been violated. It is possible the parents could have received a higher award if they had pressed for the August trial.

Shenandoah officials may have wanted a settlement to avoid any further damage to the integrity of the police department. The police officers named in the suit no longer work in the borough, but a negative outcome in the case easily could have darkened public sentiment toward the Shenandoah police agency and borough officials.

Source: republicanherald.com, "Wrongful death lawsuit against Shenandoah settled for $600,000," John E. Usalis, July 6, 2012

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