The United States Attorney's Office (USAO) has agreed to pay Cop Blaster founder Cyrus Sullivan $10,000 to settle a lawsuit he filed as an inmate and prosecuted as his own attorney after leaving custody. The lawsuit stems from the events of July 29, 2015 when Sullivan was in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) also known as "the hole" pending a disciplinary hearing. That day Sullivan was beaten and tortured by staff, but the beating took place in a blind spot that the cameras could not see, so when the USAO offered to settle the case he decided that was the best option.
On July 29, 2015 Sullivan and his cellmate were removed from their cell for a not so routine inspection. During that inspection several ink pens were found. Pens were technically contraband in the SHU, but that rule had never been enforced the entire time Sullivan was there until that day. Sullivan needed the ink pens to prepare documents for the court in one of his cases. Sullivan was challenging his conviction for threatening communications on the ground that his attorney, Per Olson, rendered ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to inform his client that the charging instrument in his case was fatally defective because it missed an essential element necessary to charge a violation of the statute that he pled guilty to violating and Mr. Olson should have moved to arrest judgment for failing to state an offense under the old version of Rule 34 that at the time permitted judgment to be arrested if a charging instrument did not charge a violation of a federal statute (https://copblaster.com/blast/35/per-olson-violated-attorney-client-privilege-supported-prosecutor). When the officers seized the pens, Sullivan demanded that they be returned and refused to go back into the cell without them. At that point Senior Officer Specialist Saul Luna twisted Sullivan's wrist in an obvious attempt to coerce him into compliance, but it had the opposite effect. Sullivan elbowed Luna.
After Luna was elbowed the staff had every right to take Sullivan to the ground and pile on top of him. They did just that, but they also punched him in the head repeatedly while he was laying on his stomach with his hands cuffed behind his back. Sullivan originally believed that the punches were thrown by Luna, but after receiving copies of surveillance footage Sullivan questioned that belief because Lt. Scott Williams appeared to have rushed around his officers to the blind spot that where he thought Luna was. Despite not being sure who threw the punches, Sullivan was sure that they came from the left because his head was turned to the left when somebody landed a blow so hard that a cut opened up on his scalp and he bled profusely. When other officers arrived on the scene Sullivan heard Senior Officer Specialist Tyler Oeltjenbruns say "he slipped his cuffs." That was a flat out lie and surveillance footage would later show that at no point did Sullivan behave like someone that had slipped his cuffs. At every point in the video when Sullivan's arms were visible they were bent like those of a handcuffed person, but that did not stop the staff from writing up a report trying to make it sound like he slipped his cuffs and then assaulted an officer. Unfortunately for Sullivan, the beating took place in a blind spot that the closest camera could not see and a second camera on the far end of the hall was blocked by the bodies of the officers. The officers assumed a formation that appeared designed to block the view of that second camera because it went beyond a normal pig pile when Senior Officer Armando Olmos assumed a position similar to what one might expect from someone trying to do a pushup with their butt high in the air. Such a position serves no value in that situation beyond blocking the camera. Eventually other staff members arrived and Sullivan was taken to an observation room. As Sullivan was being moved the camera could see blood covering his head.
In the observation room Lt. Williams and the men under his command proceeded to torture Sullivan. S.O.S. Oeltjenbruns grabbed Sullivan's ankle, placed it at the small of his back, and twisted it while another officer repeatedly yelled "break it!" Fortunately for Sullivan his ankle was not broken. Then Lt. Williams applied bond tight shackles to both of Sullivan's legs, uncuffed Sullivan, moved his arms in front, and applied bone tight cuffs to both wrists before placing a black box restraint over the cuffs (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handcuff_cover). Lt. Williams then told Sullivan to stand, but Sullivan was quickly overwhelmed by the pain in his legs and fell to a seated position on a concrete slab. Lt. Williams then punched Sullivan in the face and a said "I told you to stand." Unfortunately these events also took place in a blind spot that the cameras could not see. United States District Judge Jennifer Zipps would later write in an opinion denying the Government's motion for summary judgment, "much of the view is blocked when officers place a privacy screen across the entrance to the room." (https://copblaster.com/uploads/files/summary-judgment-denied.pdf). At one point Lt. Williams could be seen looking over his shoulder, making eye contact with the only camera that could see anything in that area, and taking a slight step so that his left arm would be off camera when he punched Sullivan in the face. Sullivan was then left in that observation room in constant excruciating pain due to the bone tight restraints for over an hour.
When the next shift arrived, they refused to loosen Sullivan's restraints saying that only medical could do that. Eventually Sullivan was forced to walk to medical in bone tight restraints. Sullivan's medical exam was filmed by an officer with a handheld camera. That footage shows Sullivan winching in pain as he inched his way down the halls. During his medical exam PA-C Brigitte Wolverton could be heard on camera asking the guards to loosen his restraints by saying, "can you loosen this? This can't be moved." She then cleaned up the blood and Sullivan was taken back to the observation room. Only a pixelated low resolution copy of the video was saved, but despite that one could still see that Sullivan's hands and feet were darker than his arms and legs due to lack of circulation. When walking back to the observation room Sullivan was noticeably in far less pain due to his shackles no longer being so tight they could not be moved. Wolverton would later write in her report: "The following are the visible signs of injury: 1. Minor laceration scalp 2. Abrasions: Back, Neck, Face, Behind both ears 3. Swelling both ears with left greater than the right." Sullivan believes that a reasonable jury could conclude that her report describes more than could be explained by officers simply piling on top of him. Sullivan was seen by Dr. Keith Tang a couple months later. He was scheduled for an earlier follow up, but when medical tried to get him the SHU staff falsely claimed that Sullivan refused to go. Dr. Tang documented tingling and numbness in Sullivan's limbs and increased pain in his shoulder due to his handlers re-aggravating a pre-existing shoulder injury.
Sullivan subsequently filed suit against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) for assault and battery by federal officers operating in their official capacities as officers of the United States. The United States enjoys what's called "sovereign immunity" which protects the United States from being sued for the actions of federal employees unless that immunity has been specifically waived. Congress waived sovereign immunity for claims of "assault, battery, false imprisonment, false arrest, abuse of process, or malicious prosecution" by federal employees by enacting 28 U.S.C. 2680(h). That allowed Sullivan to pursue a battery claim under California law against the United States in the District of Oregon. Sullivan sued in Oregon because when the United States is the defendant they can be sued in the district where the events giving rise to the tort took place or where the plaintiff lives if the plaintiff lives in the United States. Sullivan also filed a separate Bivens suit against the officers in their individual capacities for violating his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment in the Central District of California. The United States could not be sued for Constitutional violations because the United States has not waived sovereign immunity for Constitutional violations. Sullivan's Bivens was dismissed in 2020 for failing to prosecute the case and he will not try to revive it because the language of his settlement agreement prohibits subsequent claims against federal officers arising from the same subject matter. Even if Sullivan had taken the case to trial and received a favorable judgement, 28 U.S.C. 2676 prohibits Bivens claims after a judgment has been reached in a FTCA suit against the government arising from the same subject matter, so that was a factor in Sullivan's decision to settle because he did not have the time or the resources to pursue a second Bivens suit in a another state where just being in that state is a liability for Sullivan due to a business he runs that would likely not be entirely legal if he lived in California. If Sullivan were to travel to California then courts in that state would have jurisdiction over his business activities and that would be a major liability for him.
The United States agreed to pay Sullivan $10,000 in compensation. Their original offer was $5,000, but Sullivan said that sounded "a little skimpy" and was able to convince the Assistant U.S. Attorney assigned to the case that it would cost them more than $10,000 in additional costs to win a trial. The Assistant U.S. Attorney assigned to the case instantly accepted his counter offer. Sullivan agreed to that amount because he knew that the United States can only be sued for compensatory damages because punitive damages are barred by sovereign immunity and all he could seek compensation for was pain. Because Sullivan was an inmate he had no outstanding medical bills and because he represented himself he had no legal expenses beyond time, ink, and paper. By the time the settlement was offered the scar on his head had healed, the numbing and tingling in his limbs had gone away, and his shoulder had returned to normal. Sullivan concluded that for those reasons he was willing to accept $10,000 for the trouble of being beat up and tortured one afternoon. If Sullivan had the opportunity to go through it all again for that amount of money he would. He would not have accepted such a small amount had the surveillance footage shown everything that really happened. The videos took so much wind out of Sullivan's sails tothat he was afraid of the case being dismissed at the summary judgement phase. The Government argued in their motion to dismiss that no reasonable juror could believe the word of an inmate over the words of correctional officers when none of the video evidence definitively shows them punching the inmate. The court disagreed saying "The truthfulness of Sullivan's declarations cannot be ascertained by review of video evidence. The videos do not clearly depict what occurred in the hallway outside of Sullivan's cell or in the observation room." Ironically, it was the officers' obstruction of the cameras that kept the Government from being able to disprove Sullivan's claims. The credibility of plaintiffs and defendants are issues of material fact for a jury to decided. As the court explained, "Although Sullivan's allegations are directly contradicted by testimony of the involved officers. Whether the jury will believe Sullivan or the officers is not a question properly determined by the Court on a motion for summary judgment." That is an important holding that every inmate needs to read. Often inmates think that no reasonable juror would believe an inmate over multiple officers and never bother to pursue their claims. They usually don't seem to realize that their own sworn statements are considered evidence sufficient to withstand summary judgement unless those statements are clearly contradicted by tangible evidence beyond the statements of the others. The credibility of inmates is not so poor that no reasonable juror could believe them when video footage does not contradict their claims and the only contradictory evidence is sworn statements from officers.
Beyond the fact that an unreasonable juror could have sided with the government, Sullivan had personal reasons for wanting to resolve the case without a trial. Sullivan became an anti-police misconduct activist after leaving USP Victorville and is happy that he can finally chalk one up in the win column. Now he can add experience successfully suing the federal government while acting as his own lawyer to his resume. He will be able to say that for the rest of his life. He feels that adding that to his resume is worth more than $10,000 because it will significantly improve his personal credibility in the eyes of the general public after years of being accused of harassing officers online. Sullivan can now say that he has never lost a lawsuit against law enforcement.
He might not always be able to say that because he is also the plaintiff in a lawsuit against Multnomah County and several sheriff's deputies. That suit was filed under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for deprivation of civil rights under color of state law. That deprivation was the breaking of his left arm by corrections deputies at the Multnomah County Detention Center in 2017. His left humerus was broken in half and permanently disfigured when Deputy Timothy Barker intentionally retaliated against him for throwing chips in his face and threatening to dox a medical assistant that turned out to be Barker's wife. Sullivan was held in custody on charges of assaulting federal officers for over a year due to false injury claims and the deputies' status as federal contractors. Eventually his defense team produced an expert witness report proving that Sullivan's explanation of his injury is the only one given by anyone involved in that case capable of explaining his injury with any reasonable degree of scientific certainly (https://copblaster.com/blast/3410/multnomah-county-jail-brutality-x-rays-released). Shortly after showing that report (https://copblaster.com/uploads/files/expert-witness-report_compressed.pdf) to the government the Assistant U.S. Attorney assigned to that case was replaced and Sullivan was offered a sentence of time served if he pled to a lesser charge for assaulting an officer under the "reasonable apprehension of harm prong" without causing injuries by throwing chips at Barker. Unlike the FTCA, an action against a state or local municipality and their employees under Section 1983 permits punitive damages to be awarded. Despite that Sullivan has been unable to convince a lawyer to take his case on contingency. Sullivan has pitched his case to just about every Portland law firm he can find with a history of successfully suing local law enforcement including Creighton & Rose, Kafoury & McDougal, Johnston Law Firm, Clark Law & Associates, the Law Offices of Judy Snyder, and others. They all rejected his case due to various red flags that tend to prevent law firms from spending more time evaluating cases in general. Red flags such as Sullivan being a convicted felon, his guilty plea, and his lack of medical bills due to being an inmate. Many lawyers can't seem to get past the context of a guilty person that pled guilty to assault suing the named victim in the case. Others seem to believe that due to Sullivan's criminal history and other activities that he is not someone they could get a jury to sympathize with and therefore the likelihood of them wanting to award him a substantial amount is low. One attorney said that he could see a jury siding with Sullivan but not wanting to award him any money and therefore representing him would be a waste of his time. This has been discouraging for Sullivan who thought finding a lawyer would be easy with an expert witness report already done, but most lawyers have said that the Government will surely find their own expert to refute it. Sullivan believes that response is far too generalized and fails to consider the fact that he took the feds to the eve of trial and they never found an expert to refute his. Because no lawyer will represent him and Sullivan will not settle for anything less than six figures, he hopes that by settling the Victorville lawsuit that he will have the time he needs to take Multnomah County to trial if necessary.
The United States will admit no wrongdoing of course. They claim that the only reason they are settling is to avoid the cost of future litigation. Sullivan believes that most people would agree that if they did nothing wrong they would not agree to pay him. If all it took to get the government's money would be filing a lawsuit capable of surviving summary judgement then filing lawsuits based on sworn statements uncorroborated by physical evidence would quickly become a profitable industry. Sullivan believes that the keys to obtaining a settlement are defeating summary judgement and having some irrefutable evidence to back up some of your claims. Even though a jury could easily decide that Sullivan's word is not sufficient to overcome the sworn testimony of officers as to his claim of being beaten, there is no denying the fact that Sullivan was visibly in pain when filmed walking to medical and the medical staff had to ask officers to loosen his restraints because they were so tight they could not be moved. A reasonable jury would likely conclude that Sullivan's restraints were too tight, so the question would then turn to intent. The Government would have argued that there is no proof the restraints were intentionally applied tightly for the purpose of inflicting pain. Sullivan would have argued that applying all four restraints in that manner could only be done intentionally, the officers know how painful that is, such pain is unnecessary to achieve the penological goal of controlling the inmate, and the only reason an officer would apply all four restraints that tight would be to cause pain. Sullivan believes that is the reason why the Government settled.
Sullivan is still prohibited from uploading the surveillance footage due to a protective order. He has not ruled out trying to get that order lifted someday. The basis for it was that the footage shows the inside of a federal prison and therefore disseminating the footage to the public is a security risk for the prison. While that policy makes sense as a boiler plate argument for protecting prison footage in general, Sullivan believes that it should not be applied to footage that shows just a couple hallways and rooms.
The key to obtaining a settlement offer from the federal government is to sue them, survive summary judgment, and have physical evidence supporting some of your claims. If you have those then they will almost always settle for an amount that is less than what their additional expenses would be if they had to take the case to trial. This settlement proves that Sullivan was not lying when he said that he was abused by guards in prison.
About the Author
Cyrus Sullivan wrote this article about himself in the third person because he thinks it sounds more professional. Sullivan is the founder of CopBlaster.com. You can learn more about Sullivan from his bio https://copblaster.com/cyrussullivan/ or his website http://cyrussullivan.net