Columbia County ordered to pay $451k to family of former inmate
A jury has ordered Columbia County to pay $450,572 to the parents of a schizophrenic man who attacked his mother after being incarcerated at the Columbia County jail.
The jury found that Columbia County was negligent by "failing to adequately train staff regarding mental illness."
William Derby, a schizophrenic man, was convicted of methamphetamine possession in 2015 and spent the following two years in and out of jail on probation violations.
Derby was put in solitary confinement for much of his time in jail as punishment for behaviors that his attorney argued were symptoms of his mental illness.
"Prior to being incarcerated, William was neither a threat to himself nor others," the lawsuit alleged.
Over a cumulative nine months in the Columbia County Jail, Derby was subjected to "unconscionable punishments for exhibiting nothing more than the natural and foreseeable symptoms of a malnourished, neglected, untreated and unmedicated schizophrenic who is forced into solitary confinement for grossly excessive periods of time," the suit claimed.
The punishments Derby faced in jail included being isolated after yelling at an officer who told Derby to stop mopping the walls, which he had begun doing because he believed they were covered in blood.
Derby's mental health rapidly deteriorated in the Columbia County Jail, his attorney, Jacob Johnstun, said. As his mental health deteriorated, he received more punishments from jail staff.
Derby was released from jail in early April 2017, but he collapsed four days later and was taken to Unity Center for Behavioral Health.
On Easter Sunday in 2017, Derby was home with his parents in Rainier. As his mother, Janice Derby, prepared dinner, William Derby grabbed a butcher knife and cut her throat. Injured, Janice Derby was able to escape to a bedroom with William Derby's father, Michael Derby, where they called 911.
When law enforcement arrived, William Derby was sitting quietly downstairs and was taken into custody, according to the lawsuit.
When he attacked his mother, William Derby believed she was an imposter who had killed his real mother, legal filings state.
In the lawsuit filed in 2019, Johnstun alleged that Derby attacking his mother was a result of how he was treated by jail staff under the authority of Columbia County and Jeff Dickerson, who was Columbia County sheriff when Derby was incarcerated. The initial lawsuit also named Columbia County parole and probation officers and Columbia Community Mental Health as defendants, but the court dismissed those allegations.
The Multnomah County jury found that Columbia County's negligence was a cause of the physical and mental trauma suffered by Janice and Michael Derby and awarded the couple $425,000 in noneconomic damages.
Even in the immediate aftermath of the attack, as Janice Derby was in an ambulance receiving treatment, she expressed concern over her son potentially going back to jail.
"They're gonna mess with him when he gets in jail. They've been abusing him really bad," video from the ambulance showed Janice Derby saying.
Columbia County Sheriff Brian Pixley took office in 2019. Since then, the office "has instituted a comprehensive training plan that includes specific training in the area of mental health" that exceeds the requirements set by the state agency that oversees law enforcement certifications, Pixley said.
"In addition, CCSO has increased our mental health clinician hours in the jail, which provides additional professional mental health care for adults in custody," the sheriff added.
After the attack, William Derby was found guilty except for insanity on an assault charge and sentenced to the custody of the Oregon State Hospital.
More than five years after the attack, Johnstun said Derby is currently living in a group home and receives injections of his medication.
"It's a very nice setting. It's not an incarceration setting," Johnstun said.
Janice and Michael Derby "have their son back. They can talk to him," Johnstun said. "They don't blame Billy for what happened that day. They knew it wasn't him."
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