College coed Philippa "Pippa" McCully's lawsuit claims that she was badly injured during a bizarre excessive-force episode at the El Paso County jail and then refused medical treatment for a knee injury severe enough to startle the team doctor for the Miami Dolphins.
Video of the incident appears to confirm much of McCully's account. But her attorney says the case has dragged on for more than a year in part because it took place during the administration of former El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, a lawsuit defendant whose recent indictment on felony charges that include extortion and official misconduct arising from an alleged sex scandal involving at least three employees has complicated the situation immeasurably.
"During the time Sheriff Maketa was misbehaving, incidents of excessive force went way up, because nobody was minding the shop," maintains Denver-based attorney Darold Killmer. "And now, a lot of people who are defendants in our case have lawsuits in and among themselves, which makes it hard to defend the case, since they can't have the same lawyers."
As for Maketa, Killmer notes that "at the same time the El Paso County District Attorney's Office is prosecuting him, El Paso County is providing a defense for him in this case. They're tied in so many knots, it's a wonder they can do anything."
Philippa McCully, right, with her twin sister, Caroline, in a 2013 family photo.
Courtesy of Killmer, Lane and Newman, LLP
Here's how Killmer describes the incidents sketched out in the lawsuit; they took place on April 21-22, 2014.
"At the time, Pippa was a Colorado College student, and she found herself in jail because she had an adverse reaction from a mixture of drugs," he says. "She's had some really bad cards dealt to her: She had a cancer diagnosis that required the removal of her left ischium, which most people call the butt bone, and she was on a mixture of medications that were designed to treat her cancer and relieve her pain — and she also had some depression associated with her diagnosis. You can imagine that being a young woman heading into the prime of her life and getting a cancer diagnosis would be quite traumatic."
McCully was arrested "because she was accused of intending to run somebody over when she was driving her car," Killmer goes on. The original 23 charges against her included four counts of attempted murder, but in the end, she pleaded guilty to a single count of felony menacing and was sentenced to three years' probation and community service. But before any of that happened, Killmer continues, "she was in jail, which was a very unfamiliar environment for her. She's from a well-to-do family."
Not long after McCully was booked into the facility, formally known as the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center, "guards walked her into her cell," Killmer explains. "You can see on the video she wasn't doing anything wrong. There's no audio on it, but you can tell she's not chirping at the guards or doing anything physically non-compliant or aggressive. They walk her up to the wall of the cell; apparently, they're telling her something like, 'Get down to your knees.' And Pippa wasn't sure what they were asking, and she had difficulty getting to her knees because of the recent cancer operation. So she said something like, 'Pardon?' And a woman guard pulls her ankles out from beneath her, causing her face and the top part of her body to hit the floor. She hits face first, and if gravity wasn't enough, you can see a huge deputy over her left shoulder is pushing down on her — coming down on top of her as she's going down."
The moment when McCully's legs were pulled out from under her, causing her face and upper body to smack into the floor.
Courtesy of Killmer, Lane and Newman, LLP
The impact "hurt her face and body and destroyed her knee. Her left knee was just completely wrecked," Killmer says. "The pain was just extraordinary, and she was screaming and crying."
The story doesn't end there. Also named in the lawsuit is Correct Care Solutions, LLC, a national firm with which El Paso County contracts to provide medical treatment for inmates. The company has been named in numerous suits covered in this space, including ones dealing with the deaths of Tomas Beauford, John Patrick Walter and Jennifer Lobato. The Lobato case resulted in a $2.5 million settlement last year.
According to Killmer, McCully spent the next four days "crying and asking for medical care — and they were completely indifferent to the pain she was in. And they didn't know the structural damage to her leg because they wouldn't look; they wouldn't do any X-rays."
The severity of the injury wasn't known until McCully visited the aforementioned team doctor for the Dolphins in Miami, where her father lives. "He said he hadn't seen a knee that bad off except one time with a linebacker," Killmer notes. "That gives some context as to how badly hurt she was. But the guards in El Paso County jail and the medical company they contracted with didn't do anything about it."
A photo showing the injuries to McCully's knees.
Courtesy of Killmer, Lane and Newman, LLP
Beyond the claims against the jail personnel and the health-care company, the suit also targets El Paso County under the theory that the treatment McCully received was policy and practice under Maketa. Thanks to "the lack of a constitutionally acceptable use-of-force policy, the absence of accountability and training and a general breakdown of any kind of order, trust or ethics on then-Sheriff Maketa’s watch, the excessive force used against Ms. McCully is not at all surprising, and clearly reflects the very modus operandi or standard operating procedure of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office at the time," the suit states.
Since April 2016, when McCully's suit was originally filed, Killmer says El Paso County "has had to hire several armies' worth of lawyers, because each different group of defendants has so many different defendants, and they have to get their own legal team. And that's making this case incomprehensibly expensive and has made scheduling very complicated."
In its coverage of the case, the Colorado Springs Gazette estimated the amount of money paid by the county for attorneys thus far at $71,000, but Killmer believes the true cost "is many multiples of that. Some of it is being paid by insurance money, but the amount that's been spent is a lot more."
Killmer confirms that after the filing, he took part in settlement discussions with the county, but those conversations were eventually set aside.
A flirty selfie of Sheriff Terry Maketa obtained by the Colorado Springs Gazette.
Courtesy of the Colorado Springs Gazette
"I believe the county would still like to talk settlement," he says, "but now there are so many lawyers involved who are feeding at the trough that I don't believe they're receiving advice to settle. The faucets are open and all these lawyers are being paid, even though I can't think of a reason they wouldn't want to settle. I haven't heard or seen a single shred of evidence to justify the conduct against Ms. McCully. It's indefensible."
Instead of raising the white flag, the attorneys working for the county "are scorching the earth," Killmer maintains. "They've asked for every medical record Pippa's ever had. They've asked for all her school records at Colorado College and New York University," where McCully transferred because of the bad memories that lingered over what happened to her, he says. "They're asking to intrude into every single aspect of her life, either to punish her for standing up and enforcing her rights or to scare her away, or just because they can, and because they get paid by the hour to do it. It's really a disgusting approach to the case — a fishing expedition."
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Nonetheless, Killmer says, McCully "is strong — and she's not going to go away."
Meanwhile, El Paso County's meter is still running when it comes to both defending and prosecuting former Sheriff Maketa.
Click to read the complete lawsuit.