SCRANTON – A transgender inmate who sued the Luzerne County prison four times in a nine-month period ended up on the losing end once again after a federal jury determined guards did not use excessive force in removing her from a cell.
The verdict, reached in the case of Shawn Quinnones, was the latest victory for the county in a series of lawsuits filed by Quinnones that have cost taxpayers more than $90,000 to defend.
Quinnones, a transgender who was born a male but lives life as a female, filed the federal lawsuits, alleging various violations of her civil rights during her 10-month incarceration at the county facility in 2008.
Three of the lawsuits were dismissed by federal judges before they went to trial. The final case, which alleged Quinnones was injured while being forcibly removed from her cell, went to trial in federal court in Wilkes-Barre last week.
After a three-day trial, jurors deliberated just less than two hours before rejecting Quinnones' claims.
Attorney Jack Dean, whose law firm represented the county, said prison officials maintain all of Quinnones' suits were meritless. Proving that has taken time and a lot of money.
As of July 2011, the county had paid $89,170 to Dean's firm, Elliott, Greenleaf & Dean, for legal work on the four cases, according to records from the county controller's office. That figure does not include the estimated $10,000 to $20,000 in additional fees incurred in preparing for and defending the county at last week's trial, Dean said.
The county has insurance to cover lawsuits, but the deductibles range from $25,000 to $175,000 per incident, depending on the carrier. The county must pay the legal bills until the deductible is met.
"It's frustrating," Dean said. "These guys didn't do anything wrong and they were tied up in court over a guy who repeatedly files lawsuits."
Quinnones has represented herself in each of the cases. The excessive force suit, filed in January 2009, alleged she suffered facial injuries while being forcibly extricated from her cell for having forbidden items.
Quinnones, a state prison inmate, was temporarily housed at the county prison while she awaited trial on charges she assaulted a state prison guard.
Attorney Matthew Carmody, who represented the county at the trial, said there were no medical records to support Quinnones' claims she was injured. The case rested mostly on allegations made by Quinnones and other inmates she called who are alleged to have witnessed the cell extraction.
Prison officials testified Quinnones lunged at guards as they entered the cell and that they used no more force than necessary to restrain her to ensure their safety.
"It was an issue of credibility. She got to present her case and allegations and the jury didn't believe it," Carmody said. "Unfortunately, this took longer than we had hoped. At the same time, this was something the prison was going to see through because it did nothing wrong."