In 2017, a Portland news source reported on “a string of heroin-related deaths behind bars.” In the years since, the opioid crisis still rages, and inmates are still dying abruptly in lockup, often as a result of the side effects of detoxing. When that happens due to a lack of basic medical care (such as providing IV fluids or prescription medicine,) then those responsible for providing that care may have done something that’s more than callous. They may have violated that inmate’s civil rights. If your family has been impacted by one of these kinds of events, an experienced Oregon jail death lawyer can give you keen insight and knowledgeable advice about your situation.
According to area news reports, sometime during the afternoon of Aug. 21, 2022, inside a holding cell at the Curry County Jail, a 34-year-old woman, Heather Iverson, lay dying. By the time deputies found her (at around 6:00 pm), she was already dead. While details about Iverson’s death remain sparse, this isn’t the first time an inmate/detainee has died suddenly at the Curry County Jail.
In 2017, local police arrested a 24-year-old woman on outstanding warrants. During her booking, Cassadi Renee Bond informed the staff that she had used heroin before her arrest. Allegedly, the Curry County Sheriff’s Office and medical staff “closely monitored” the woman for “any signs of opioid withdrawal.” Despite that alleged “close” monitoring, the woman deteriorated to such a degree that, within 72 hours of her arrest, she was found unresponsive in her cell. She never regained consciousness.
Bond’s death triggered a report from KOIN in Portland, where the news source indicated that the woman’s death was one of several “heroin-related deaths behind bars,” including an incident from here in the Portland area.
Officers arrested Madaline Pitkin, a 26-year-old Portland-area woman, on a drug possession warrant in April 2014, and housed her at the Washington County Jail. Within a week of that arrest, Pitkin died inside the jail. During that period, she submitted four written requests begging for medical aid. Other than providing powdered Gatorade, those responsible for Pitkin’s care, who knew she was a heroin user, did little to treat the effects of her detox.
In 2018, Pitkin’s parents landed a multi-million judgment against Corizon, the private business responsible for healthcare services inside the facility. The parents’ attorney pointed out that opioid detoxification often triggers severe dehydration that, if not addressed properly, can be fatal. But treating it can be simple. In Pitkin’s case, the best way to have treated her dehydration would have been IV fluids, but “it wasn’t given,” the family’s lawyer stated in the KOIN report.
Opioid Detox Isn’t the Only Form of Detox that Can Be Fatal
While many of these inmates who are dying due to a lack of care are heroin addicts, the problem spans more than just opioid users. Indeed, this office is currently representing the family of a woman who died while in alcohol detox inside the Yamhill County Jail.
The woman, Kathy Norman, was a Portland native living in Newberg. In January 2018, officers arrested her on a warrant for failure to appear in court. When Norman entered the jail, staff members (in addition to the private contractor nurse) knew that Norman had been in the hospital ER for alcohol intoxication for at least 8 hours immediately beforehand.
Wellpath, the private company responsible for medical care inside the jail, placed her inside a cell that was supposed to be medically monitored. It was not.
Norman died within hours. Norman’s horrific death is a reminder that the alcohol detox process, like heroin detox, can be fatal if not handled properly. A percentage of people detoxing from alcohol experience delirium tremens. DTs can be acutely severe, triggering things like seizures, strokes, and heart attacks. In Norman’s case, hospital staff told the Sheriff’s Office about their concerns regarding Norman and DTs. Nevertheless, Norman received no monitoring and never even having her vital signs taken.
These deaths are always depressing, but they’re often more than that. The U.S. Supreme Court declared in 1976 that a prisoner’s right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment guarantees them the right to receive adequate medical care. Their families may be entitled to relief under a Section 1983 civil rights lawsuit if they died because they received no care or substandard care.
Getting placed behind bars while in the throes of a substance addiction shouldn’t be a death sentence but, for too many people in Oregon and around the country, it is. For those that died because they didn’t receive the care they needed and deserved, there may potentially be solutions within the legal system. The experienced Oregon jail medical neglect attorneys at Kaplan Law LLC are dedicated to helping families harmed as a result of someone else’s negligent or reckless misconduct, including cases where that misconduct has resulted in the death of someone housed inside one of Oregon’s jails. Call us today at (503) 226-3844 or contact us online to set up your free consultation.