In January, Scott Gomez Jr. sued officials in Colorado after he was injured at the Pueblo County jail. More specifically, he was injured while trying to escape from the Pueblo County jail. But if you’re thinking that he claimed in this lawsuit that prison officials were responsible for his injuries because they should have done more to keep him from escaping . . . well, you’d be right.
Gomez claimed he had been abused by guards and other prisoners, thus suggesting that the escape attempt was only about self-preservation. But his complaint was focused on the theory that prison officials were negligent because they breached "a duty to maintain the Jail so that it was secure and inmates [such as himself] could not readily escape." ("Jail" is capitalized throughout, apparently so the reader won’t confuse it with some other jail that Gomez didn’t try to escape from because he wasn’t in it.) He argued defendants had breached one or more duties because they:
- failed to make the jail reasonably escape-proof;
- failed to regularly monitor Plaintiff to prevent him from escaping;
- failed to make sure that the door of Plaintiff’s cell was locked;
- failed to provide ceiling tiles that could not be removed by Plaintiff by melting them with a homemade candle;
- failed to investigate after finding Plaintiff’s homemade candle; and
- failed to take extra precautions despite being aware of Plaintiff’s "propensity to escape."
That last one is because Gomez had in fact successfully escaped from Jail in a similar fashion in 2006, when he was in Jail because of a parole violation that was the result of yet another previous escape. So while one might argue that Gomez was responsible for his first two escapes, the second one would have established a "propensity to escape," rendering officials to blame for anything after that. Checkmate!
These breaches of duty caused Gomez’s injuries, he argued, because their escape-encouraging Jail again caused (forced, really) Plaintiff to go out through the ceiling, climb to the roof, and use a makeshift rope to attempt to reach freedom. Unfortunately, "[w]hile attempting to scale down the side of the Jail, Plaintiff fell approximately forty feet, striking the pavement below, sustaining significant injuries to internal organs, damage to his buttocks, back, scrotum, urethra, head and other parts of the body." It was not clear to me how Gomez managed to injure his head and his urethra in a single fall, but while it is entertaining to speculate about his landing posture what’s important is who’s to blame. Turns out he blames the defendants, who had after all given him "an open invitation" to exercise his known propensity for escape, and "knew or should have known that, in the event Plaintiff did attempt to escape . . . , in all likelihood he would be injured."
Hold on a second, said defendants. In addition to some boring governmental-immunity stuff, they argued that state law precludes any recovery of damages for injuries sustained during the commission of a felony. See Colo. Rev. Stat. sec. 13-80-119. And since Gomez was committing a felony when he tried to escape from being incarcerated for his previous escape from his incarceration for the first felony, they said, that law applies.
In response, Gomez wrote: "It is argued that this section of the statutes does not apply, by its own terms[,] to the circumstances of this case." Personally I thought he could have fleshed that out a bit more, but since according to the docket the case has since been "resolved," I guess we’ll never know how that might have turned out.
Link: Los Angeles Times