Livingston sheriff and jail dropped from wrongful death lawsuit

John White
John White

A federal judge on Thursday dismissed the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office and Livingston Parish Detention Center as defendants in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by parents of an inmate who died after a fight in the jail in June 2012.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen C. Riedlinger, of the Middle District of Louisiana in Baton Rouge, granted the motion Thursday after the parents of the inmate, Darrin Norton, 35, of Denham Springs, requested Wednesday to have the jail and Sheriff’s Office dropped from the suit.

Livingston Parish government and Sheriff Jason Ard remain as defendants in the case.

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

Norton’s parents, Stanley Norton and Rhonda Posey, have claimed in court that their son died from guards’ use of excessive force and failure to render aid after the altercation.

The parents sued the jail, Ard and Livingston Parish government in 21st Judicial District Court in Livingston Parish on June 12, claiming Norton’s rights were violated under the 14th Amendment, and federal and state law.

The suit was transferred, at Ard and the parish’s request, from state District Court to federal court on July 3.

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

Stanley Norton and Rhonda Posey’s attorney also has filed a motion to add more defendants to the suit, including Willie Graves, who was sheriff at the time of Darrin Norton’s death.

Calls made to attorneys for Ard and Norton’s parents were not returned Thursday.

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.

In addition to compensation for their losses, they have asked for punitive damages “to deter willful and malicious conduct” in the future.