VAN BUREN -- A man filed a civil lawsuit last month claiming law enforcement officers caused his son's death while his son was in the Franklin County Jail.
Clayton Franklin, the father of the late Cody Jack Franklin, filed the lawsuit May 26 in the Crawford County Circuit Court against Franklin County, Ozark and three law enforcement officers in connection with the May 11, 2016, incident.
The lawsuit asserts the officers -- one Franklin County Sheriff's Office deputy and two Ozark police officers -- caused Cody Franklin's death by way of gross negligence, and Franklin County and Ozark are responsible for the conduct they displayed at the time of his death.
Clayton Franklin filed a civil lawsuit against the entities, in addition to the Franklin County Sheriff's Office, Sheriff Anthony Boen and another sheriff's deputy named James Taylor Molton, in the U.S. District Court in early 2017. Those claims were dismissed in May 2020, according to court records.
Clayton Franklin "does not believe that the individuals responsible for the death of his son have ever faced any sort of consequence, nor have they been brought to justice," said Derick Allison, one of Franklin's attorneys.
The defendants in the current lawsuit haven't been served yet, meaning a trial date won't be set "for some time," Allison said Monday.
The lawsuit states Cody Franklin, who lived in Crawford County, visited friends in Franklin County and was walking on Westview Road at 7:15 p.m. May 10, 2016. A sheriff's deputy approached Franklin, and, after questioning him, arrested him without incident for obstructing governmental operations, a misdemeanor. Franklin, who was 20 years old, was booked into the Franklin County jail.
Cody Franklin, despite his misdemeanor, was placed in a cell with Arkansas Department of Corrections detainees, who were all "felons and persons charged with and convicted of serious offenses," according to the lawsuit. A fight then broke out in which at least three other inmates beat Franklin as he tried to defend himself.
An investigation by the state of Arkansas stated Deputy Nicholas James learned of the altercation only while he was moving other prisoners from one cell to another, the lawsuit states. Understaffing at the jail prompted James to contact the Ozark Police Department for assistance, after which Officer Nathan Griffith arrived.
The lawsuit states Griffith struck Franklin with his stun gun at least five times and choked him to the point of unconsciousness as he and James moved Franklin to another cell. Franklin regained consciousness during this process and proceeded to panic, at which point Joseph Griffith, also with the Ozark Police Department, came to the jail.
A handcuffed Franklin then was stunned three more times, choked again and endured the three officers placing their knees, bodies and full weight on top of his thorax, according to the lawsuit. Franklin was pronounced dead after being taken to a local hospital.
"The Franklin County Detention Center has a long history of failing to properly maintain its facilities for the safety and protection of its inmates," the complaint states.
Franklin County completed construction on a $7.9 million jail with 104 beds in Ozark in 2020.
Rickey Bowman, the county judge, previously said the old jail was built in 1974 and was determined by the 5th Judicial District Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committee not to meet minimum state jail standards. Crowding had been one of its problems over the years.
Dr. Stephen Erickson with the state medical examiner's office concluded in 2016 Franklin died from acidosis brought on by methamphetamine intoxication, exertion and struggle over a long period of time, restraint and multiple Taser shocks.
David Gibbons, then-prosecuting attorney for Franklin County, decided not to pursue criminal charges against the three officers. He wrote in a letter to Arkansas State Police investigator Phillip Pierce on Aug. 31, 2016, he didn't believe there was enough evidence to convince a jury they caused Franklin's death.
Christopher Brockett, civil attorney for Franklin County, said he turned the current case over to the Arkansas Association of Counties, which will represent the county in the lawsuit. He had no comment on the case, citing a lack of involvement.
Tom Kieklak, an attorney representing Franklin County and James, in response to a request for comment referred to the opinion and order signed by U.S. District Judge P.K. Holmes when Clayton Franklin filed his lawsuit on the matter in federal court. This dismissed Clayton Franklin's claims against all the county defendants in the lawsuit with prejudice.
Sara Teague Monaghan, senior litigation counsel for the Arkansas Municipal League, will represent Ozark, as well as Nathan and Joseph Griffith. Monaghan said the the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit already determined the officers' conduct was constitutional when it considered this case. She declined to comment further due to the litigation.
Anthony Boen, sheriff of Franklin County since 2011, pleaded not guilty to three federal charges of deprivation of rights under color of law on Dec. 17, 2019. He was released on an unsecured bond of $5,000 with conditions, including not entering the Sheriff’s Office and relinquishing all duties except signing employee checks. Boen’s jury trial is set for Aug. 2 in Fort Smith.
Source: U.S. District Court, Western District of Arkansas