By BRIAN GRAVES
Bradley County has settled with the family of a man who hanged himself in the Bradley County Jail, with the majority of the $475,000 amount purchasing annuities for the man’s two …
Bradley County has settled with the family of a man who hanged himself in the Bradley County Jail, with the majority of the $475,000 amount purchasing annuities for the man’s two minor children.
Ralph Nelms, 41, of Cleveland, had been arrested in connection with two area burglaries in the county on Sept. 15, 2016, after he was developed as a suspect for the burglary of a body shop on Dawn Drive.
The Bradley County Sheriff’s Office said evidence left at the scene led detectives to Nelms, as well as new evidence which also linked Nelms to the burglaries of several campers at a business located in Spring Place Road.
He was charged with three counts of burglary, theft of $1,000 and theft of over $500.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation confirmed that Nelms had been found hanging in his cell on the morning of Sept. 18, 2016.
Three corrections officers at the Bradley County Jail were suspended as part of the investigation into the hanging got underway, and the BCSO conducted an Internal Affairs investigation which ran parallel to the one conducted by the TBI.
In October 2016, Ron Reddish and Gabe Black were terminated by the BCSO, and Tim Boyd resigned.
The officers were indicted by a Bradley County grand jury in December 2016 for their actions and inactions concerning the hanging death of an inmate.
Reddish, Black and Boyd were been charged with official misconduct.
Black was charged with tampering with evidence and tampering with governmental records.
During the course of the TBI investigation, agents developed information that indicated the required cell checks were not conducted as reported, and that jail logs were falsified to show that they were. The investigation revealed that the three officers were the individuals responsible for conducting those cell checks.
10th District Attorney Steve Crump praised "the transparency of the entire command staff in alerting agencies to the activity of their subordinates."
The Nelms family filed their lawsuit in February 2017 claiming damages for conscious [and] physical pain, suffering and death; severe emotional injuries; mental anguish; economic loss including wage loss; exemplary damages; attorneys fees and costs loss of love, society and companionship; reasonable funeral and burial expenses; and all other damages allowable by law.
No specific monetary amount was mentioned in the lawsuit filed by Kristen Danielle Nelms, as administrator of his estate, on behalf of his two minor-aged sons. Nelms' obituary listed the plaintiff as "the mother of his children" and not as his spouse.
In her order handed down Dec. 7, U.S. District Judge Pamela L. Reeves, noted that while the case was not settled in mediation, the family and Bradley County continued to discuss settlement and later reached the settlement by which the family’s claims against all defendants “will be resolved and dismissed.”
Reeves noted the family had brought their lawsuit under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability ACT.
The act, passed in 1973 by the Tennessee General Assembly, was an attempt to balance the needs of injured persons to recover for injury or damage caused by the negligent acts of a local government and the needs of local governments to provide, and of their citizens to receive public services, without unduly burdensome litigation and taxes.
One of the most important provisions of the Act is the section that grants absolute immunity to local governments and then creates exceptions to this immunity making them "liable for certain actions or inactions, based on negligence: you had a duty to act; you breached that duty; your breach of that duty was the proximate cause of the injury; an actual injury or damage did occur."
The judge noted under that act, recovery would have been limited to $300,000 without recovery of attorney’s fees or expenses.
The county contended that any recovery made by the family for a violation of Civil Rights could not be had against the county, but only against the county and the individually named defendants.
“Further, due to the fact Mr. Nelms’ death resulted from his own actions, there is a risk to plaintiffs that no recovery or a significantly smaller recovery than the settlement amount would be reached,” Reeves wrote in her order.
The annuities bought by the settlement will ensure one of Nelms’ children will receive $316,000 with the other collecting $273,000.
“All payment to be paid under the annuity plans are to be paid directly to the children after they reach the age of majority and Kristin Damielle Nelms, as their mother and guardian, is not claiming nor is she to be paid any of the settlement funds,” the judge ordered.
The annuities purchase will cost $312,937; attorney’s fees are $158,333; and $3,730 will be deducted for costs and expenses.
Those monies will be paid by the county’s insurance, and not from the local government’s general funds, as the settlement was negotiated by the insurance company and does not necessarily mean the county believes they should have been penalized.
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