Trial set in lawsuit against county sheriff's department

Lawsuit filed by former inmate scheduled for trial in 2000

A trial date has been set for Dec. 4, 2000, in a lawsuit against Moffat County Sheriff's Department Deputy Lynn Holmes and the Moffat County Sheriff's Department. Both Holmes and the Sheriff's Department have denied allegations in a lawsuit alleging Holmes failed to protect a former inmate of the jail.

The lawsuit was filed in February on behalf of Scott Overton. In March 1997, Overton was charged with second-degree burglary, theft, criminal mischief and conspiracy. He was sentenced to eight years in the Colorado Department of Corrections and was incarcerated in Moffat County jail until space became available in the state prison.

While he was in Moffat County Jail, Overton said he was attacked by another inmate, with lasting effects of chronic back pain, severe depression and insomnia, according to the complaint filed by Overton. The man who attacked Overton was later found guilty of third-degree assault because of the incident.

Overton is suing Holmes in his official and personal capacity for $1 million. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court.

The complaint states Overton made Holmes aware of the danger he was in through notes and verbal complaints and that Holmes made no move to place Overton into protective custody.

In his response to Overton's lawsuit, Holmes denied he received notes from Overton, that he was aware of Overton's fear and that he disregarded the warnings that Overton was in danger.

Holmes contends Overton's alleged injuries were caused by his own negligent actions.

Holmes has been a deputy with the Sheriff's Department for nearly four years and has the support of Sheriff Buddy Grinstead in this case.

Scott Lasater, attorney for ITT Hartford, the insurance provider for the county, believes Holmes is protected by the doctrine of qualified immunity, meaning Holmes cannot be personally liable in the suit since he was acting as a representative of the Sheriff's Department.

Lasater has filed motion for summary judgement which states he believes there is legal justification for dismissing the case.

Overton's attorney from Boulder, Colo., William Benjamin, said he is in the process of responding to the motion. His response is due Dec. 29.

The motion for summary judgement didn't come as a surprise to Benjamin.

"It's standard operating procedure in cases like this," he said.

He believes he is being realistic about his client's chance of winning.

"I feel we have a 50-50 chance of getting to a trial, then it's up to a jury," he said. "Generally any time a prisoner tries to assert his legal rights, the entire judicial system stands in his way. We've been through that this whole case.

"It's always an uphill battle to protect or assert any rights on behalf of a prisoner."

Lasater believes the county has a good chance of getting the case dismissed. The case on a whole is sloppy, he said, and shows the inexperience of Overton's attorney.

"It's a very weak case," Lasater said.

The case will be argued before Federal Court Judge Walker Miller.

If the case is not dismissed, it will be heard before a jury of six. The county has no plans to settle the case, Lasater said.

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