Federal claims dismissed in Livingston jail death lawsuit

A wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of a Livingston Parish inmate who died while in custody is headed back to state court after a federal district judge dismissed all federal claims in the case.

The parents of Darrin Norton, 35, of Denham Springs, sued the Livingston Parish Detention Center, Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Jason Ard and Livingston Parish government in 21st Judicial District Court in June 2013 in the death of their son.

Norton died June 17, 2012, following a struggle with jail guards who were attempting to move him to a padded cell for suicide watch.

His parents, Stanley Norton and Rhonda Posey, claimed the guards used excessive force in subduing their son and failed to render aid after the altercation. Norton’s parents sought damages for violations of their son’s Eighth and 14th Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution as well as wrongful death under state law.

The Eighth Amendment bans the use of cruel and unusual punishment. The 14th Amendment prohibits state and local government officials from depriving someone of life, liberty or property without due process.

The suit by Norton’s parents was later transferred to federal court in Baton Rouge and new defendants were added, including former Sheriff Willie Graves, eight deputies and a nurse.

U.S. District Judge James J. Brady dismissed Ard and the parish government as defendants in October. Brady said Ard and the parish could not be held liable in a federal case for actions of their subordinates when there was no policy that would have provoked a deprivation of civil rights.

The judge also said Norton’s parents failed to provide enough facts showing Ard was indifferent to Norton’s medical treatment.

U.S. Magistrate Stephen Riedlinger had already dismissed the Sheriff’s Office and jail as defendants.

Brady, in his ruling Wednesday, also dismissed the federal claims against Graves, the deputies and the nurse because Norton’s parents failed to add them as defendants within the time limits allowed by law.

Because the only remaining claims are based on state law, Brady remanded the case to the 21st Judicial District in Livingston, where it was first filed.

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

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

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

Norton’s parents alleged in their lawsuit that deputies taunted and hogtied Norton, used excessive pepper spray in his face and down his throat, and beat him “excessively, relentlessly and without cause.”

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