In an underreported case highlighting tensions between police and people with psychiatric disorders, the state of California has agreed to pay nearly $1 million to a man with schizophrenia.  The money will be placed in a special needs trust (SNT) to enhance the man’s quality of life while preserving his eligibility for public benefits.  

On December 10, 2012, Jeffrey Jurgens was allegedly driving the wrong way down a one-way street in Sacramento, and a brief high-speed chase ensued. When Jurgens was pulled over, two police officers approached the car, guns drawn. Jurgens—a 21-year-old unarmed man weighing 130 pounds and diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia—opened his car door while keeping his feet in the car and raised his hands.

One officer kicked Jurgens in the face while the other began striking him with his baton.  Two other officers soon arrived and joined in.  The officers pulled Jurgens from his car by his feet and continued to strike him with their batons, knees and feet as Jurgens tried to shield his head with his arms.  One of the officers  struck Jurgens 23 times with his baton.. As captured on video taken from a squad car’s dashboard cam, the two original officers concluded the beating by giving each other a “high-five.” Jurgens, who spent the next 79 days in police custody, sustained a broken arm, brain injury and psychological trauma.

The beating of Jurgens, who is white, did not capture the attention of similar cases such as Rodney King in Los Angeles and Stephon Clark, who was shot and killed by the Sacramento police in March.  But Jurgens filed an excess force lawsuit in 2014, alleging a range of federal and state civil rights claims. The parties agreed to settle the case in March.

On April 26, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California approved a settlement between Jurgens and the four police officers named in the lawsuit, with the state agreeing to pay Jurgens $999,999.  In its decision approving the settlement, the court reviewed a proposed special needs trust for Jurgens’ benefit, , which it found to be “fair and reasonable.”

By placing the settlement funds into a special needs trust, Jurgens will maintain his eligibility for Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid program) and Supplemental Security Income.  The trust designates as trustee a California licensed professional fiduciary who has worked with several special needs trust beneficiaries in the past.

For more information on setting up a special needs trust prior to settling a personal injury claim, click here, or contact your special needs planner.

For news coverage of the Jurgens settlement, click here.

For an article on how misunderstanding disability can lead to police violence, click here.

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