GEORGE COUNTY, Miss. (WKRG) — The George County Board of Supervisors accepted a judgement Monday to pay $2.5 million to the family of Joel Dixon, settling their wrongful death lawsuit.
The amount represents over half of the county’s current general fund, $4.3 million, where the bulk of routine operating expenses are accounted for. The agreement was negotiated down from an original request of over $11 million, according to a county resolution confirming the settlement.
Dixon died of complications from diabetes while being held in the county’s correctional facility in Sept. 2014. Carmon Brannan, the facility’s nurse, was convicted of manslaughter in July 2018 for not giving Dixon insulin in the week since he had been arrested. Her appeal was denied by the state court of appeals and she began serving her 15 year prison sentence in Oct. 2020.
A jail employee who reported to Brannan testified Brannan often denied care for people in the jail, saying “Everybody doesn’t need to go to the doctor…They weren’t seeing the doctor in the free world…They weren’t taking care of themselves, so they don’t need to see them while they’re in here.”
Brannan said she thought Dixon was detoxing and he never asked specifically for insulin. The district attorney said she declined to send Dixon to a hospital 13 times while jail guards became worried as he slurred his speech, could not walk and threw up black liquids.
“William Joel Dixon was taken from this Earth at no fault of his own entirely too early, leaving two adolescent children without a father. It’s a very tragic situation,” Dixon estate co-counsel Garner Wetzel told WKRG. “There’s no judgement, there’s no jury verdict, there’s no way to bring back their father.”
Brannan’s attorney told the state supreme court she was responsible for over 350 inmates and “begged the County for additional nursing staff because she could not keep up with the work they placed before her”. Justices rejected taking up her conviction appeal in June 2021. As part of the civil judgement, the county will write a letter of apology to the Dixon family.
“I feel as though the county: their board of supervisors, their county attorney certainly realized they had a problem on their hands in the manner in which the county jail was run, operated and overseen. Due to the lack of oversight, a tragedy had taken place. We are here to make sure that the rules and the law are followed so something like this never occurs again,” Wetzel said.
The judgement came as a surprise to the board of supervisors, according to the resolution. The Dixon estate initially rejected the county’s attempt to settle. That would have set up an August jury trial the county thought would result in a judgement against them for whatever amount the jury decided in addition to all attorney costs for both sides, an over $500,000 expense for the county’s representation alone as of Oct. 2021.
The county’s attorneys instead notified the board on May 27 the estate accepted the $2.75 million amount, with $250,000 contributed by the county’s insurer, to be fully paid by August 1. A federal court certified the judgement, in which the insurance carrier will also pay the county’s attorney fees, on May 31.
“It was determined this was the best course for the county and didn’t expose us to any jury settlements that might’ve been less favorable to us,” Board of Supervisors President Frankie Massey told WKRG.
The county admits no fault under the judgement. The county corrections warden and sheriff at the time of Dixon’s death no longer hold the positions.
The finance department will begin looking at how the judgement may affect county operations and revenues when they form the Fiscal Year 2023 budget later this summer, county staff told WKRG.
Monday’s resolution closes a long line of litigation involving Brannan. An initial manslaughter trial ended with a hung 11-1 jury. Brannan sued a former juror in the case for defamation and later sued Dixon’s mother.