Sevier County settles inmate's lawsuits

Apr. 11, 2014 @ 11:00 PM

The county has settled federal and local lawsuits filed by the family of a Sevier County Jail inmate who was left paralyzed after an assault in his cell.

Ronald McDaniel has been quadriplegic and required round-the-clock care since the June 2011 incident. He says he was left lying on the floor overnight after the attack left him unable to move his arms or legs because jail personnel thought he was faking the injury.

In the federal lawsuit, he was seeking $75 million from Sevier County and from First Med, the clinic that provides medical services at the jail, saying his civil rights were violated when personnel failed to give him prompt and proper care for the injuries. He also filed a malpractice suit in Sevier County Circuit Court. Both were settled this month.

The terms of the settlements are not disclosed in either case, and his attorney declined to address them. “We’re glad that Ronnie doesn’t have to go through any more than he’s gone through, and we’re glad it’s over,” William Bovender said.

Sevier County Sheriff Ron Seals did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

Court documents indicate the federal case was settled after mediation; it’s not clear if a mediator was involved in the resolution of the local case.

According to a transcript of McDaniel’s deposition, McDaniel said he was yanked from the top bunk onto the floor by a cellmate, Edmund Dahm, and that Dahm and the other two inmates in the cell started kicking him.

He acknowledged that he didn’t tell jailers he’d been assaulted; in fact, he didn’t tell anyone until he was removed from the cell.

“I told (a jailer) I couldn’t feel my body...I could barely move my arms and he told me I was faking,” McDaniel said. “And he asked me what happened and I said, ‘I fell off the top bunk.’”

He said he told them he’d had a seizure and fell, “because I was afraid that if they left me in the cell I was afraid for my life that they might retaliate and possibly kill me. At that time I was just hoping to get out of there alive.”

He never disclosed that he’d been beaten until he was taken to the University of Tennessee Medical Center, he said.

Dahm was later convicted of aggravated assault for that incident. He had been out on probation, but is now being held again at the jail after violating the terms of his probation.

After trying to get McDaniel back on the top bunk, the inmates moved his mattress to the floor and left him there overnight, he said.

Later, Dahm punched him in the face to see if he would move, and held a burning cigarette lighter to his bare feet to see if he would flinch.

Doctors there quickly determined McDaniel suffered a spinal injury, and he was flown to the University of Tennessee Medical Center for treatment.

jfarrell@themountainpress.com