A federal judge has cut $5 million from a jury award for the parents of a developmentally disabled Scottsdale man who died days after jail detention officers strapped him into a restraint chair.
Judge James Teilborg on Wednesday found that the $6 million the jury gave Charles Agster Jr. and Carol Agster for civil rights violations “amounted to an improper attempt to punish” the defendants, which included the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.
The judge’s decision leaves the Sheriff’s Office responsible for paying $650,000 of the $1 million judgment and the other defendants to pay the rest.
Insurance will cover the payoff, said Peter Crowley, Maricopa County’s risk manager.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said the judge’s decision affirms his belief that the county should defend lawsuits in court rather than settle.
“If you go to court, you may get good results,” Arpaio said.
The county agreed to an $8.25 million settlement in the 1990s with the family of Tempe resident Scott Norbert, 33. He died on June 1, 1996, after being placed in a similar restraint chair.
Agster attorney Michael Manning said the couple agreed to the reduction because they would have had to try the damages portion of the case again if they didn’t, which would have forced them to relive their son’s death again.
“The trial was a brutal emotional experience for these parents and to put them through that again did not make sense to us,” Manning said.
Teilborg has yet to rule on the Agsters’ request for $3 million in attorney’s fees.
According to court documents, Charles Agster III, 33, who had the mental capacity of a 12-year-old, became combative in the jail on Aug. 6, 2001. Detention officers strapped him to the restraint chair and he lost consciousness.
His family took him off life support on Aug. 9, 2001, when testing showed no brain activity.
Arpaio discontinued the use of the restraint chair in August.