Cuyahoga County to pay $180,000 settlement after juvenile inmates forced to fight for guards’ entertainment

CLEVELAND - Cuyahoga County has agreed to pay nearly $180,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by four former juvenile detention inmates who claimed guards forced them to fight for their own entertainment.

The suit claims the fights, referred to as "Fight Nights," were a long standing tradition inside the detention center.

At least one of those fights was captured on a surveillance camera inside the detention center, showing an inmate throwing a punch, then body slamming the other inmate to the ground.

Attorneys for the inmates claim the video also shows guards letting the inmates into a room two at a time, locking the door and then having them fight inside the room.

"They were encouraging it for their own entertainment. We don't know if they were gambling among themselves, but if you look at the video there was a lot of laughter. This was their Friday night entertainment which, as human beings and plaintiffs attorneys, we found this to be egregious behavior," said Thomas Perotti, one of the attorneys representing the juveniles.

"Incarceration or detention doesn't give the government any right to tell the people who are in their custody [to fight]. So, this was just such an outrageous set of events that it demanded action and it demanded the only appropriate route to go," said David Malik, another of the attorneys involved.

Because the case was settled before discovery, attorneys said they could not really determine how many other inmates were involved or for how long the activity had taken place.

Their suit, however, references "the good old days when nurses assisted in the cover up of fight nights by providing covert medical assistance."

The suit also alleges that the guards told the juvenile inmates that they needed to avoid hitting one another in the head.

"The primary purpose of juvenile justice is to rehabilitate, and when I saw what was going on I was aghast. I was like, this can't be happening. This is like 50-years-ago and this is happening in our back yard and this is only what we know about," said Perotti.

Both of the guards involved have since resigned.

As an unprecedented part of the settlement, the county has also agreed to a meeting between the inmates and the guards so they can confront one another about the impact the experience has had on them both physically and emotionally.