Four years after Demetric Cowan died while in custody at the Greenwood County jail, his wife and the detention officers she filed a wrongful death lawsuit against reached an agreement to settle over her claims.
Cowan was arrested by Greenwood police and booked into the county jail March 12, 2016 on charges of drug possession and resisting arrest. In the early hours of the following morning, Cowan began acting strangely, and officers noted seeing him crawling, vomiting and having what appeared to be a seizure on the floor of his jail cell.
The highest-ranking officer at the jail that night made the decision to call EMS about 45 minutes after Cowan began acting strangely, and he died minutes later. A later toxicology report would show he died from cocaine-related drug toxicity, seemingly stemming from Cowan swallowing a bag of cocaine at some point before he was detained — something he never informed an officer of, so they argued they had no way of knowing Cowan’s behavior stemmed from drug toxicity.
LaKrystal Coats, Cowan’s widow, filed a lawsuit alleging his death was caused by neglect and violations of his rights by the officers involved with his arrest and detention. Nine officers, including Greenwood Police Chief Gerald Brooks and then-Sheriff Tony Davis were sued, with defendants being served in August 2016. Over the years of hearings, a judge dismissed all defendants from the case except for Sgt. Sydney Montgomery and detention officers Roy Murray and Pamela Osborne — the three officers on duty at the jail during Cowan’s detention.
On Feb. 24, U.S. District Court Judge Terry L. Wooten signed an order dismissing the case without prejudice, in light of an agreement between Coats and the defendants to settle out of court. On March 18, Coats’ filed her petition to approve the settlement, which would put the legal claims to rest for a total of $225,000.
Court documents make clear the sum will be paid out by an insurance policy, and no individual defendant will be contributing to the settlement. Coats’ attorney’s fees will total $90,000 — 40% of the settlement, plus expenses. A response to Coats’ motion to have the settlement approved must be filed by April 1.
Rusty Harter, the Greenville attorney representing Montgomery and Murray, said he was glad the case will be behind his clients. The settlement avoided what Harter said would have likely been a long, protracted jury trial. Charles Grose, who represented Coats, declined to comment outside of saying he was glad the case could be resolved.