Yesterday, in Crawford County, President Judge Anthony Vardaro entered a Consent Order in the case of Estate of Chapin v. Brown in the amount of $2 million dollars. The wrongful death award consists of $1 million dollars in compensatory damages and $1 million dollars in punitive damages awarded to the Estate of Gary Chapin and Mary Janis Chapin, the widow of slain Crawford County Corrections Officer Gary Chapin. Attorney Peter C. Acker, Esq. of Dallas W. Hartman, P.C. was the attorney for the Estate who obtained the $2 million dollar award.
Officer Chapin was killed in the line of duty as a result of an incident that occurred on October 13, 2010 with inmate Gregory Brown. As a result of that incident inmate Brown was criminally charged with third-degree homicide, aggravated assault, and assault by prisoner. A jury of seven men and five women found Brown not guilty of third-degree murder and not guilty of aggravated assault and assault by prisoner, but did find him guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
In August 2012, Officer Chapin's widow filed a civil suit alleging negligence, assault and battery, wrongful death and loss of companionship in connection with the death of her husband. The civil suit sought damages for the medical expenses incurred for the month that Officer Chapin was in the hospital on life support before passing from his injuries, the loss of income as a result of his death, for the conscious pain and suffering of Officer Chapin prior to his death, and the loss of companionship experienced by his widow.
Plaintiff had previously obtained summary judgment against inmate Brown which found that inmate Brown was civilly liable for causing the death of Officer Chapin. The case was before Judge Vardaro for a pre-trial conference, in preparation for an upcoming trial on the sole issue of damages, at which time the $2 million dollar consent agreement was reached.
This case is another example of a situation where a defendant was not held fully accountable in the criminal court for their actions, but was held accountable for money damages for their conduct in a civil suit. Dallas W. Hartman stated, "while no amount of money will bring Officer Chapin back or replace his loss, it felt good to help the widow of a fallen Corrections Officer obtain an award of compensation for her loss. By obtaining this award we hope to send a message to those persons who would assault members of law enforcement that their conduct will not be tolerated. Even if a person is not held liable criminally for their actions, they may face a significant judgment against them personally, which judgment may not be discharged in bankruptcy. Holding inmate Brown accountable for his actions was a moral victory for Mrs. Chapin."