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Collier Sheriff's Office accused of violating civil rights of slain
By CHRIS W. COLBY, cwcolby@...
April 30, 2004
The widow of a psychiatrist, who court records say was strangled to death by
a Collier County jail inmate, has changed her lawsuit to seek more money from
the Collier Sheriff's Office by alleging the agency violated her husband's
Rae Hoyer, widow of Dr. David Hoyer, added a federal count to the two state
counts that formed the wrongful death lawsuit when it was filed in 2002.
State law sets a $100,000 cap on damages in lawsuits against the local
government if a plaintiff succeeds in proving a violation of state law. But damages
from a breach of federal law have no maximum, Hoyer's Palm Beach attorney,
David Gaspari, said.
"If you succeed, there are unlimited damages," Gaspari said. "And attorneys
fees on top of that."
The suit originally was filed in Collier Circuit Court. During the process of
discovery, which involves the sharing of evidence and interviews with
witnesses, Gaspari learned more of the circumstances around Hoyer's death on Jan. 6,
2001. That prompted the attorney to change the lawsuit about a month ago.
Because the federal count was added, the Sheriff's Office's Fort Lauderdale
lawyer, Bruce W. Jolly, said the case was moved recently to U.S. District Court
in Fort Myers. The case could have remained in Naples, but Jolly asked for it
to be reassigned.
Hoyer was strangled while conducting a mental health evaluation on inmate
Rodrigus Patten, court records say. The criminal case charging Patten with murder
Jolly has filed paperwork with the court, arguing the sheriff has no legal
culpability — that Hoyer, of Bonita Springs, and Patten, of Golden Gate, are to
blame for the death.
Hoyer was attacked in a soundproof room after Patten's public defender
requested he conduct a mental health evaluation to determine if Patten could stand
trial on kidnapping, carjacking and robbery charges.
During the interview, in which the two were alone, Patten strangled Hoyer to
death, the lawsuit and prosecutors allege. The criminal indictment alleges the
murder was a premeditated act, although authorities never discovered a
Patten wasn't handcuffed or shackled during the interview. Deputies found
Hoyer collapsed in the room after Patten alerted them Hoyer may have had a heart
attack. He died three days later at Naples Community Hospital. An autopsy
revealed he died of manual strangulation.
The suit alleges Sheriff Don Hunter — as the sheriff in charge of operating
and maintaining the jail — was negligent in "causing or contributing to the
death of" Hoyer.
Court records related to Patten's criminal case say Hoyer was made aware
Patten had an antisocial personality disorder and was considered extremely
dangerous, but the doctor never requested any kind of restraints for Patten.
Gaspari said jail policy required interviews to take place in a room with a
glass window, but no deputy was monitoring those inside. And Hoyer was never
told of an alarm in the room he might have been able to trigger when he was
The suit alleges the federal civil rights violation occurred when the jail
failed to institute proper safety procedures to protect Hoyer and deliberately
didn't follow what regulations were in effect. The jail's procedures required
two deputies to monitor the interview. Patten should have been deemed a
high-risk inmate, but he wasn't, Gaspari said.
The day before Hoyer's death, Patten had wrestled another inmate to the
ground, punched him and threatened him, Gaspari said. Patten already had a criminal
charge pending related to a battery on another inmate. None of this was told
to Hoyer, Gaspari said.
"You don't know if he's a killer. . . You don't have access to his medical
record. You don't know if he's tried to kill five people in there," Gaspari
Jolly argued Hunter "would assert that the incident about which the plaintiff
complains was totally unforeseeable to this defendant, and therefore this
defendant had no opportunity to take steps to prevent (the death of Hoyer)."
Jolly also argued Hunter denies failing to provide a safe premises for
business invitees or failing to "exercise reasonable care under all of the relevant
Gaspari said the move to federal court could add another two years to the
time it takes to dispose of the case, and stalling may have been Jolly's tactic.
Lawyers also prefer to have federal judges, rather than state judges, preside
over issues of federal law because they tend to be more familiar with the
If the federal count is dismissed, the case could get bounced right back to
Naples anyway, Gaspari said.
"Civil rights and 14th amendment violations are difficult to explain and
difficult to prove," Gaspari said.
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