By Kevin I. Goldberg
A lawsuit has been filed in Federal Court for the death of Karl Grimes, age 18, against the D.C. Government. Mr. Grimes was incarcerated at Oak Hill Youth Center which is the maximum security juvenile detention center for the District of Columbia. Oak Hill is located in Maryland, but is owned and operated by the District of Columbia Government.
According to The Washington Post, Mr. Grimes got into a fight with two other children at the detention center in 2005, and died the day before Thanksgiving in 2005 at Prince George's Hospital Center in P.G. County, Maryland. The lawsuit was filed against the D.C. Government and Prince George's Hospital Center for negligence, wrongful death, and survival. The attorney for Mr. Grimes's family is Greg Lattimer. The lawsuit alleges that the detention center had improper staffing and improper supervision to ensure the safety of the residents, and that there was an insufficient delay in providing appropriate medical care.
There is a long history of allegations of improper treatment of juveniles at Oak Hill Youth Center. In fact, the facility was the subject of a Consent Order and Receivership arising out of the Jerry M Case in Washington, D.C. When in law school, Kevin I. Goldberg worked at Oak Hill Youth Center through the D.C. Public Defender Service and represented juveniles in disciplinary proceedings within the facility. Children who are injured or killed while incarcerated have the right to file a lawsuit if their injuries are the result of negligence or the violation of their civil rights. These cases can be difficult to prove, and in Maryland the State of Maryland's Tort Claim Act (or Local Government Tort Claims Act) may provide immunities and a damage cap of $100,000.00 against State Officials.
There are also generally strict notice requirements for bringing negligence claims against the government. For example, in Washington, D.C. DC Code Section 12-309 requires that the Mayor and its designee be given written notice within 180 days of the negligent act. In Maryland, the Maryland State Tort Claims Act requires notice to the State Treasurer within 1 year. If the claim (in Maryland) is against a county, notice must be provided to the appropriate official within 180 days. As challenging as these legal cases are, with good lawyering, and careful selection of appropriate Defendants, it may be possible to overcome sovereign immunity and the various State Tort Claims Acts that protect municipalities and State Governments.
Possible causes of action against juvenile detention centers include negligence, assault, battery, violation of civil rights (under Federal Law and/or State Law), and if a death occurred, Wrongful Death and Survival. Hopefully, Mr. Lattimer will obtain a just result for the Grimes family. More importantly, hopefully as a result of this tragic incident, the D.C. Government will take care to be sure that children in its detention facilities are properly supervised and their safety protected.