Sheriff, Livingston Parish dismissed from wrongful death lawsuit

A federal judge dismissed Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard and parish government as defendants in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by parents of an inmate who died after a fight in the jail in June 2012.

Darrin Norton, 35, of Denham Springs, died while in custody at the Livingston Parish Detention Center following a struggle with jail guards on June 17, 2012.

His parents, Stanley Norton and Rhonda Posey, sued the jail, Ard and Livingston Parish government in state District Court on June 12, claiming their son died from guards’ use of excessive force and failure to render aid after the altercation.

The suit was later transferred to federal court.

U.S. District Judge James J. Brady, in his ruling Wednesday, said Ard and the parish cannot be held liable, under law, for the actions of their subordinates.

Brady also ruled Norton’s parents failed to provide enough facts showing Ard showed indifference in Norton’s medical treatment.

U.S. Magistrate Stephen Riedlinger had already dismissed the Sheriff’s Office and Livingston Parish Detention Center as defendants in the suit.

Willie Graves, who was sheriff at the time of Norton’s death, remains as a defendant in the case, along with eight deputies and a nurse.

Livingston Parish attorney Chris Moody said the parish will file a motion to have the nurse, Courtney Chaney, dismissed from the lawsuit as well.

“Our position is that everything was done that could be done for this poor gentlemen, and that there was certainly no malpractice or any negligence on behalf of any parish employees, including the nurse,” Moody said.

Attorneys for Ard and Norton’s parents did not respond to messages for comment Thursday.

Ard’s attorneys filed a motion July 26 to have the suit dismissed against the sheriff, saying Ard cannot be held vicariously liable for his deputies’ actions and that Ard was not personally involved in the struggle.

Ard’s attorneys also argued that the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Detention Center are not suable entities under state law.

Livingston Parish also moved to have the suit dismissed, saying the sheriff, and not the parish, handles day-to-day operations at the jail.

Darrin Norton was booked a day before his death on counts of aggravated criminal damage to property, criminal trespassing and resisting arrest after he allegedly tossed rocks through the windows of a neighbor’s house, according to an arrest report.

Norton, during a medical interview while in jail, named several people he wanted to kill, including his physician, Graves and Chief Judge Bob Morrison, of the 21st Judicial District, according to the report.

Norton was placed on suicide watch and was being moved to a padded cell when he became violent, Ard said at the time.

Deputies used chemical spray during the struggle, but Ard has said he was unsure if Norton was hit by the spray.

Norton died around 9 p.m., authorities have said.

One deputy suffered head injuries and another broke an ankle during the struggle, Ard has said.

Norton “suffered agonizing physical and mental pain, mental anguish and emotional distress from the time he was initially restrained until his death,” his parents said in their lawsuit.