WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – WECT has uncovered millions of dollars in additional payouts by New Hanover County and the City of Wilmington to settle lawsuits and claims.
On Monday, we reported that the agencies, together with New Hanover County Schools, had spent $9 million since 2014 in attorneys’ fees and settlement payments. WECT has received additional documents since the report was first published that raise the grand total to at least $16.6 million.
Responding to our initial request, New Hanover County provided copies of about a dozen formal settlements they’d reached over the last five years. When we pressed for a full list of claims handled by the county’s insurance company during that time frame, as well as worker’s compensation claims, we discovered there were well over 100 other incidents and claims resulting in about $3 million in additional expenses.
Some of the claims have not been previously reported by local news outlets. They include a former New Hanover County Jail inmate, Keith Jackson, who had to have his penis amputated after medical providers for the New Hanover County Jail and other detention facilities throughout the state allegedly failed to diagnose his penile cancer in a timely manner.
According to a federal lawsuit, Jackson was detained for over a year in New Hanover, Brunswick, Pender, Onslow, Pamlico and Pitt County jails before admitting to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and being sent to a federal prison in West Virginia. Within three weeks of his arrival at the WV prison in 2015, a biopsy of a lesion on his penis showed Jackson had cancer.
Jackson says he repeatedly requested medical treatment for an oozing lesion on his penis, and painful urinary tract infections, but medical providers at various jails failed to provide basic medical care. He says at the New Hanover County jail, he was given Bandaids and anti-biotic cream instead. Jackson claims after being transferred to the Brunswick County Jail, they denied him access to any medical care providers, but did occasionally give him gauze for the lesion.
In the Pender County Jail, Jackson said his treatment was worse. He claims to have been placed in solitary confinement, and later beaten by jailers after getting into an argument with a sergeant because he was “distraught and frantic to receive medical care” for his condition.
Jackson was a federal inmate, transferred from jail to jail by US Marshals while awaiting trial. His complaint indicates he was told by county jailers that his medical care was the responsibility of the federal government.
By the time a physician at the federal prison finally saw him and discovered Jackson actually had a rare form of cancer, and Jackson underwent emergency surgery, it was too late. When he awoke from surgery, he discovered the urologist had amputated nearly all of his penis.
“I cried for three days,” Jackson, who is originally from Wilmington, told the News and Observer.
According to the lawsuit, Jackson was scheduled to see his primary care provider about the lesion on his penis just days after he was arrested by US Marshals in April 2014 for possession of a hunting rifle and shotgun, as well as a 9mm handgun as a convicted felon.
A database for federal lawsuits indicates Jackson’s lawsuit was recently dismissed “for want of prosecution.” Jackson’s attorneys were not able to elaborate. But New Hanover County records indicate they have not yet closed this case, and their insurance provider has set aside $146,400 to handle the county’s potential liability in this claim.
Two notable settlements not previously disclosed to WECT in response to our initial public records request involved a New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office K9. The dog bit a child while a deputy was doing a routine walk through the child’s school with the K9. Insurance documents indicate the county paid $8,750 to settle that claim in February 2018. The child’s mother tells us the same K9 later attacked another child behind Myrtle Grove Baptist Church. That child required stitches. Her family sued and received a $50,200 settlement.
There are also several open cases of interest, some of which have already cost a considerable amount to litigate.
To date, the county’s insurance carrier has spent $105,434 on a lawsuit filed by the county’s former Board of Elections director, Marvin McFadyen. He was apparently seeking $30,000 in a wrongful termination claim. A judge dismissed McFadyen’s lawsuit in April 2018, but McFadyen appealed and the case is ongoing.
The Johnnie Williams case against the county also remains unresolved. The New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office said Williams nearly ran over an officer at a DWI checkpoint on November 1, 2013. That prompted a police chase which ended 13 minutes later when Williams is seen on video with his hands up, apparently trying to surrender. At that point, Wilmington Police Sergeant Stafford Brister hoisted his 70-pound police dog into the car, which latched onto Williams, injuring him.
The City of Wilmington already paid $82,500 to settle that case out of court. Insurance paperwork indicates William’s suit against the county stems from the same incident. The county’s insurance provider has spent $18,000 handling that lawsuit so far, but none of that money appears to have gone to Williams.
New documents provide to WECT by the City of Wilmington show they’ve spent about $5 million on settlements over and beyond the expenses they initially disclosed to us for our Sunshine Week report on government settlement agreements.
The vast majority of that money went to worker’s compensation claims. A city spokeswoman explained that those claims are handled separately through a different insurance carrier. Those claims typically cost the city about $750,000 a year, but workers comp claims handled during the 2014-2015 fiscal year totaled $1.8 million. The city said an employee lost a limb that year, which contributed to the unusually high payout. Additional details about that incident were not immediately available.
WECT has also learned city taxpayers will directly pay $6 million of the $7 million dollar settlement going to a wrongfully convicted former inmate. Johnny Small spent decades in prison for murder following a botched case by Wilmington Police. The city says their insurance would only cover $1 million of his settlement payment, and the rest will come out of the city budget.
New Hanover County Schools also provided more information to us about an additional $108,000 paid to settle 23 claims stemming from automobile accidents between 2014-2018. NHCS’ attorney explained that does not include accidents involving school buses, which are handled by the state. We are still waiting for workers comp claims filed against the school system, but their settlement expenses so far have been considerably lower than the city and county’s.
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