Former sheriff James M. Swinson and four Fairfax County employes, including Sheriff M. Wayne Huggins, have settled a $2 million wrongful death suit filed against them by agreeing to pay $10,000 to the family of a woman who died in the county jail, a lawyer connected with the case said yesterday.
The settlement was reached Dec. 11 midway through trial in U.S. District Court in Alexandria of a suit brought by the survivors of Phyllis Sanders, who died in solitary confinement on July 22, 1978, after being arrested earlier that day on speeding charges.
The $10,000d amount -- previously undisclosed -- will be paid to Sanders' family by insurance companies representing the Fairfax County sheriff's office, according to the lawyer, who declined to be indentified.
The insurance companies will pay $1,000 on behalf of Huggins, the former cheif deputy sheriff who was in charge of the jail the night Sanders died, the lawyer said. Another $1,000 will be paid on behalf of county medic John Land, who was on duty at the jail that evening, according to the attorney.
The amounts to be paid on behalf of Swinson, and deputy sheriffs Carol Reed, and Sylvia Dyer, who were also on duty at the jail, were not disclosed.
At the time of the out-of-court settlement Swinson commented that the death of Sanders, which court papers filed by her family attributed to "symptoms consistent with brain damage," had been blown out of proportion.
"It seemed like to me it was played up a whole lot. They [the press] made a mountain out of a molehill, as usual," Swinson said.
Sanders, 25, died after vomiting, fainting, losing bladder control, and occasionally screaming, being given two aspirin as medical treatment, according court papers.
The administration of the county jail, which is under control of the Sheriff's Department, was an issue in the recent sheriff's election. Huggins, Swinson's hand-picked candidate to replace him, testified in a deposition in the case that he had cleaned up Sanders' cell after her death before calling for police experts to examine the scene. "I am the police," Huggins said after giving the deposition.
After the out-of-court settlement involving the five Fairfax officials, a jury considering the civil suit went on to absolve Virginia State Trooper Dennis A. Bowden of liability in the case. Bowden had arrested Sanders on the speeding charge.
Huggins won the election and was sworn in as county sheriff last Friday. He could not be reached for comment.