It is not uncommon for a criminal suspect to be the victim of a crime. Such is the case with April Tomblin Chaflin, who received $275,000 from a federal jury in a civil trial after they determined that a federal home confinement officer forced Chaflin to have oral sex with him three separate times while she awaited criminal charges in 2009.
Chaflin was on home confinement awaiting charges for grand larceny when she allegedly went beyond the range of her home to have a beer with a neighbor. This set off her monitoring device, and Chaflin was called into the office of her home confinement officer, John Reed. Reed allegedly threatened to tell the judge that Chaflin violated the conditions of her home confinement unless Chaflin agreed to perform oral sex on him. Chaflin claimed that she was afraid of Reed, and of being reported, and therefore did what he asked. This also allegedly occurred on two other occasions after Chaflin was threatened.
The civil trial took place over three days. In the end, the jury awarded Chaflin $125,000 for intentional infliction of emotional distress, a $125,000 penalty on the Logan County Commission, and $25,000 in punitive damages. There is no word as to whether Logan County intends to appeal the verdict, although Reed’s attorney stated that he would “exercise every avenue available” to have the verdict set aside. Chaflin hopes that the verdict will prompt Logan County officials to file criminal charges against Reed.
This case brings up a couple of interesting points. First, it shows that — in contrast to an all-too-common belief — criminals are not purely bad people who deserve whatever comes to them. Few would argue that despite Chaflin’s crimes, she deserved to be threatened into performing oral sex. One reason there are West Virginia criminal defense attorneys is because the situation involving criminals is rarely black and white. Chaflin may have been the criminal defendant in the grand larceny case, but she was a plaintiff in the civil case against Reed, and if criminal charges are brought, he will be the criminal suspect in the case, not she.
Second, it is notable that Chaflin was able to win $125,000 for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Intentional infliction of emotional distress is a tort, like negligence, battery, or assault. However, intentional infliction of emotional distress can be more difficult to prove than these other torts. The basic elements involve: (1) an intentional or reckless act (2) that was extreme and outrageous, (3) causing the plaintiff’s distress, and (4) the plaintiff suffered severe emotional distress as a result.
Often, a case will fail on the “intentional or reckless” element. Even if you could provide substantial evidence that the defendant’s actions caused your severe distress, you would also need to show that the actions were done with the intent to cause that distress, or were reckless. Another problem you might run into is, even if you could prove the defendant’s actions were meant to cause emotional distress, you would still need to show that the symptoms or your distress were directly related to the defendant’s actions and did not exist before. Many people have trouble showing that their health problems, for instance, were not already there at the time of the act, or that they were not attributable to another cause. That is why it is commendable that April Tomblin Chaflin was able to get damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress in her case against Reed.