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U.S. judge: Civil suit against county is OK

A civil suit filed by relatives of a former Lucas County jail inmate may proceed, a federal judge ruled Friday.

U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Vernelis Armstrong rejected the claims of Lucas County and the sheriff’s office that they cannot be sued, finding that “as a political subdivision, a county is not immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment.”

The family of Carlton Benton filed the wrongful-death lawsuit in 2008, four years after he died in custody. The litigation was put on hold while several officials, including former Sheriff James Telb, were tried in federal court on criminal charges related to the death. Mr. Telb and Robert McBroom were acquitted, but former employees John Gray and Jay Schmeltz were found guilty.

The civil suit was re-activated in October, 2012. Joel Levin, attorney for Mr. Benton’s family, said the issue of suing government entities and government agents “is fraught with peril.”

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