Tentative settlement reached in Valdes case


Published: Friday, January 19, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 18, 2007 at 11:46 p.m.

An apparent settlement has been reached in a 2001 wrongful death lawsuit by the family of a Florida State Prison inmate, who prosecutors alleged had been beaten to death in 1999 by corrections officers.

The suit was filed against prison employees at the Bradford County facility, including former warden and Department of Corrections Secretary James Crosby, according to federal court records.

A March trial date had been set for the lawsuit filed by Mario Valdes, the father of prison inmate Frank Valdes.

Attorneys on both sides of the case and parties named in the lawsuit declined Thursday to discuss a settlement in the lawsuit.

An employee at the South Florida law firm of Rubin & Rubin, which represented Mario Valdes and his son's estate, said Thursday there would be no comment until the settlement is finalized.

But a motion filed by the plaintiff's attorneys at the Jacksonville federal courthouse on Wednesday stated a settlement agreement had been reached. The document listed the settlement amount at $737,500. The state will pay the settlement.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs are seeking court approval for $331,875 in fees and $102,548 in costs for hundreds of hours spent on the case, court documents state.

The fees were established by an agreement between the lawyers and their client that provided for 40 percent of the gross recovery plus an additional 5 percent if an appeal was necessary.

The death of Frank Valdes, 36, focused a spotlight on the treatment of prisoners at Florida State Prison, where the corrections department has housed some of the state's most dangerous and disruptive inmates.

Frank Valdes had been awaiting execution for the 1987 murder of a Glades Correction Institution officer. While housed at the prison, he was fatally injured and died in July 1999. Autopsy results showed he had multiple injuries including a fractured collarbone, jaw, nose, shoulder and spine, plus 22 broken ribs. Boot marks were found on his body.

Prosecutors twice tried to convict corrections officers for beating Frank Valdes. Medical experts testified the inmate was stomped to death. But prosecutors struck out in a 2000 trial and again in 2002 when a jury found four former prison officers not guilty of charges ranging from second-degree murder to official misconduct.

State Attorney Bill Cervone later dropped charges against five ex-prison officers, who were remaining defendants in the case. Cervone noted problems with keeping the trial in Bradford County where many residents work for the prison system, evidence against the defendants and the two previous acquittals.

Several of the corrections officers charged in Frank Valdes' death were named as defendants in the lawsuit. Also named was Crosby. At the time of the inmate's death, Crosby had served as the prison's warden. He later was appointed secretary of the corrections agency.

Crosby was fired as head of the Department of Corrections in February and pleaded guilty in July to accepting kickbacks.

An appellate court had ruled that Crosby would have to testify about officers' behavior if a trial had been held in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleged Crosby and others promoted officers who had been previously suspended or were disciplined for violent acts against inmates and that there was a track record at the prison where inmates were "forced to endure cruel and unusual punishment at the hands of employees."

Lise Fisher can be reached at (352) 374-5092 or fisherl@gvillesun.com.

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