King County will pay $3 million to settle a lawsuit filed by an incarcerated man who was severely beaten in 2018 by another person in jail who officials knew was dangerous, psychotic and had a long history of attacking his cellmates.
Toby Meagher, who himself has a long history of mental illness, suffered a traumatic brain injury, broken bones in his face, damaged facial nerves and broken teeth when he was attacked by Troy Leae (pronounced lee-AYE-ee), who had just been returned to the jail from Western State Hospital where he had assaulted six individuals, including a mental health professional.
Evidence showed that the day of the assault, July 15, 2018, jail corrections officers disregarded Meagher’s pleas to be moved from his cell after Leae had told him he was going to fight him. Less than an hour later, Meagher, who weighed 145 pounds, was found unconscious in a bloody heap on the cell floor after the 5-foot-10, 300-pound Leae pounded his head against a metal sink, according to documents and grisly photographs contained in the pleadings.
According to the lawsuit, the injuries Meagher suffered “exacerbated his mental disorder and have deeply affected his ability to communicate.” At the time the lawsuit was filed a year later, his attorneys said he “still struggles to string a sentence together.”
“He spends much of his time confused and upset, constantly revisiting the attack itself, and plagued by nightmares, insomnia, and paranoid thoughts that center specifically around Mr. Leae and the attack.”
It is the second seven-figure payout by the county for a jail assault in four months. The county paid $1.25 million to a man in November after he was attacked and beaten by another incarcerated individual in a “meth-fueled rage.”
In a statement, King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention spokesperson Noah Haglund said, “We deeply regret the injuries that Mr. Meagher suffered, and the impact that this attack has had on Mr. Meagher and his family. We are committed to the safety of everybody in our custody, as well as to our staff and visitors.”
Haglund noted that mental illness is not a reason to isolate people who are incarcerated as it can exacerbate their problems.
“In light of this incident and others, we have increased the training that Jail Health Services staff receive about sharing appropriate medical information with their DAJD colleagues,” he said.
U.S. District Judge James Robart refused to dismiss the lawsuit or grant the involved corrections officers qualified immunity in 2020, and the county appealed his decision to the 9th Circuit Court, where a panel of three judges upheld Robart’s decision and sent the case back for trial.
According to the pleadings. Meagher was booked into the King County Jail in Seattle in August 2017 after he approached two strangers near a convenience story in Burien, punched the man and threatened them with a knife. It was his 20th arrest and booking.
In jail, he assaulted a guard and was twice sent to Western State Hospital for evaluation and was found to suffer from schizoaffective disorder and other mental illnesses.
“Both evaluations concluded that Mr. Meagher’s mental health symptoms impaired his ability to rationally understand court proceedings and assist his defense,” according to court documents.
Robart, in his order declining to dismiss the charges, noted that Meagher’s history included more than 300 outpatient contacts with mental health providers, numerous civil commitments, and repeated findings of mental incompetence at Western State Hospital.
After he was returned to the jail, he continued to be affected by his illnesses. Three days before the assault, a psychiatrist found he continued to hear voices and suffer delusions.
Even so, he was placed in general population with close security, according to the lawsuit.
The county did not dispute that Leae had a “long history of committing violent, unprovoked attacks” and that he had committed several in the months leading up to his attack on Meagher.
On Aug. 6, 2017, police had taken him to Harborview Medical Center for evaluation after an assault. While there, “Leae, without provocation, repeatedly punched a mental health
professional and caused the professional to blackout,” according to Robarts’ findings in the case.
After being booked into jail, he was placed in restrictive housing and eventually taken to the “Ultra Security” section of the jail. For the next month, he was isolated from other inmates, and in September was ordered by a judge to undergo evaluation at Western State Hospital, according to court pleadings.
However, that transfer did not happen until January 2018, and in the interim Leae was returned to general population, where in October he assaulted another incarcerated man without provocation, knocking him to the floor and kicking him repeatedly in the head. Leae was returned to “Ultra Security” again, according to court documents.
In January, Leae was taken to Western State Hospital where records show he was involved in six assaults on staff and other patients and became so violent that he was placed in five-point restraints. A February evaluation showed Leae to be psychotic and paranoid with unabated symptoms, and incapable of facing trial for the jail assault the previous October.
After a second judicial commitment to restore his competency, Western State Hospital officials determined Leae could understand the proceedings against him despite his “very psychotic behavior.” He was returned to the King County Jail in April, on medication and placed in general population. Documents provided to the jail by the hospital said his medication regime was crucial to prevent further assaults.
However, documents showed that Leae repeatedly refused to take his medication, and at one point tried to drown himself in a jail toilet. Even so, his security classification was lowered by corrections officials at least twice until he was placed in the cell with Meagher, who had returned from his own competency-restoration trip to Western State on July 2, 2018.
Once bunked together, Meagher repeatedly asked to be moved to another cell, saying he and Leae were not getting along. Another incarcerated man who gave a statement afterward said Meagher “was looking worried … like he felt like he knew something was going to happen.”
Meagher would later say he tried to get the officers’ attention but was told to “handle it himself.”
“The assault that caused these horrific injuries was not an unpreventable assault by an unpredictable inmate,” attorneys Felix Luna and Tomas Gahan wrote.
Jail officers “locked the mentally ill Mr. Meagher in the same cell as the homicidal Mr. Leae, walled in by cement, steel and glass, a decision that effectively granted Mr. Leae free reign over his vulnerable victim.
“Such conduct, by the very individuals tasked with ensuring Mr. Meagher’s safety within the jail and in light of the foreseeability and preventability of the attack, was far beyond negligence — it was an act of reckless disregard.”