“It is understood and agreed that this settlement is the compromise of doubtful and dubious claims, and that the payment made is not to be construed as an admission of liability,” the agreement states.
In a letter to the Gilliams obtained by The Advocate, Monticello attorney Winter Huff explains the county’s legal position in settling the case.
“I appreciate that you never did anything improper, but we found ourselves in a risky position due to the appearance,” Huff writes.
Lavit responded to those claims today.
“It’s ironic, isn’t it? They claim no liability, yet they pay over the money,” he said. “We’ve taken on law enforcement and held them accountable.”
Cochran filed the complaint in U.S. District Court in Lexington alleging the Gilliams violated his Fourth Amendment rights against illegal seizure.
Court records show the Gilliams oversaw the eviction and helped landlords Charles and Laila Williams remove all of Cochran’s personal property from the three-bedroom home, which was subsequently sold to pay $1,225 in back rent. Don Gilliam admitted to paying the Williamses $100 for one of Cochran’s TVs, which was set up in the sheriff’s department.
Court records show the deputies threatened to arrest Cochran and family members if they tried to interfere with removal of the property and sent away a state trooper who came to the scene after Cochran called 911 for help.
Huff tried to get the lawsuit dismissed, arguing that the Gilliams had immunity from the lawsuit while performing their official duties, but U.S. District Judge Joseph Hood ruled that aiding the Williamses in removing the property went beyond the scope of their official functions. Huff appealed that decision to the Sixth District U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, where a panel of judges backed Hood’s ruling and sent the case back to U.S. District Court for trial.
The $93,000 settlement was considerably less than what Cochran demanded. He asked for $150,000 in compensatory damages to replace his personal belongings taken in the eviction and $3 million in punitive damages to punish the deputies for their behavior. Lavit said it was Cochran’s decision to take the offer.
“Rodney wanted to get this behind him; it was his choice,” Lavit said. “It’s not chump change. He has other financial considerations he’s dealing with, and this settlement allows him to get his life back on track.”