Articles Posted in Civil Rights

WellPath, the Tennessee company with a trail of numerous civil actions regarding inmates who died while in its care, appears not to be slowed by the cloud of that litigation. Earlier this month, Oregon Public Radio reported that WellPath and Clark County had agreed to a three-year contract for services at the county jail and the youth detention facility in Vancouver. Whether inmate care is provided by an outside entity or by a local government, whenever those providing that care put dollars over people, harm (and, too often, death) will inevitably result. If your family has been touched by this kind of loss due to provider negligence, don’t delay in reaching out to an experienced jail medical neglect lawyer to discuss what options your family has.

According to the OPB report, the agreement called for WellPath to receive $5.87 million in the first year of the deal, with increases of 4-8% in each of the next two years.

WellPath provides care in jails and prisons in 36 states, including seven in Oregon. Currently, the company is facing four separate civil lawsuits in Oregon alleging that it was liable for the wrongful death of inmates under its care.

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Each January, Americans pause to reflect upon the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On multiple occasions, Dr. King counseled new college graduates and other audiences that “the time is always right to do what is right.” At Kaplan Law LLC we strive to do exactly that as we pursue justice on behalf of our clients.

And, as of this month, we’ve been doing it for 20 years.

During those two decades, we have represented a lot of victims and their families in catastrophic injury (and death) cases, including high-profile ones like Jed Hawk Myers. Myers died in the Yamhill County Jail after his pleas for medical attention — 19 times across five hours, to be exact — were ignored.

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A lot of state and local governments — including counties here in Oregon — have outsourced the provision of medical care inside their jails to large out-of-state corporations like Corizon Health and Wellpath. Too many times, big companies like these prioritize profits over proper care. As a result, incarcerated patients needlessly suffer and, too often, die. It’s been nearly 50 years since the U.S. Supreme Court first said that a failure to provide proper medical care to a jail inmate is a violation of that inmate’s Eighth Amendment rights. If you have a family member who didn’t get the medical attention they should have while behind bars, then you should get in touch with an Oregon jail medical neglect lawyer to find out if your family potentially has a civil rights case.

Recent news reports have revealed that another woman has entered an Oregon jail only to die shortly after booking. The deceased person was a 34-year-old woman from Central Point who, according to court documents filed on Nov.7, was arrested on methamphetamine and fentanyl charges. Police housed her in the Jackson County jail.

Less than a week later, the woman was dead. According to news reports, corrections officers identified the woman as “in medical need” at 10:14 pm on Sunday, Nov. 13. At that point, the woman supposedly was “alert and responsive to deputy questions,” KDRV reported.

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Earlier this week, we looked at the ongoing problem of people with addictions dying inside area jails. Many times, these people die because of improper care (or no care at all) in managing the detox process. Jails have healthcare service providers who are supposed to be able to handle these inmates (or else transfer them to someplace that can.) When an inmate dies because they did not receive proper medical care, that represents a potential violation of their civil rights. If your family has lost a loved one in this way, a knowledgeable Oregon jail medical neglect lawyer can help you to get to the truth.

One thing that’s common in these cases is the speed of deterioration. The U.S. Department of Justice looked at a broad array of these deaths and found that the “median length of stay in jail before death from alcohol or drug intoxication was just 1 day.”

So, why are inmates and detainees abruptly dying so soon after entering lockup? Law offices that handle these cases — including this office — often have the depressing answers.

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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.

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When a loved one has been hurt (or has died) because they did not receive proper medical care while incarcerated, the ultimate goal always is to get justice. Simply obtaining a court document that generally says “judgment for the plaintiff” may not always, in and of itself, be enough. A truly successful case means asserting all the right claims and holding all the responsible parties accountable. As you and your family seek to do that, be sure to rely on a knowledgeable Oregon civil rights lawyer experienced in handling jail medical neglect cases.

Maximizing your case’s strength often means, among other things, including in your lawsuit every person and entity liable for the harm your loved one endured. When it comes to doing that, a recent ruling from the Oregon Supreme Court is very helpful for prisoners harmed by mistreatment (or the families of prisoners killed by such negligence.)

The prisoner in the case had diabetes. He also was deaf and communicated using American Sign Language (ASL). A Clackamas County deputy who did not understand ASL tried to communicate with him. The deputy wrongfully identified the prisoner as a suicide risk and placed him on suicide watch.

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No one deserves to die a slow, painful death because their numerous pleas for medical treatment fell on deaf ears among those responsible for providing that care. Unfortunately, that exact outcome happens too often in jails and prisons in Oregon and around the country. In many of these cases, the entity responsible for providing medical care to those inmates is a private, for-profit company to which the state or county has outsourced medical care responsibilities. Whether or not the wrongdoer was a state/county agency or a private contractor, when an inmate dies from inadequate medical care, that inmate’s family (estate) very likely has a negligence claim and possibly a civil rights action. That family should contact an Oregon jail death lawyer about the proper legal steps to take. Timing is critical in these cases in order to preserve evidence and investigative materials as well as to send the proper tort claim notices to preserve claims against public entities.

Another month has delivered yet another report of an inmate’s death inside a jail. Voices of Monterey Bay‘s recent report focuses on one of the bigger (and more notorious) private contractors providing prison medical care, Wellpath.

The California inmate who died, according to one source, had been moved from the Monterey County Jail’s general population after expressing “suicidal thoughts.” However, on the night of April 19, he was removed from suicide watch, according to a nurse. The next morning, a deputy found him unresponsive. The inmate died from asphyxia, the result of the massive amount of toilet paper he stuffed up his nose and down his throat, according to the coroner.

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Even while incarcerated in Oregon, a person has certain basic human and civil rights, including the right (secured by the Eighth Amendment) to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. That right includes things like being free from “deliberate medical neglect” as a prisoner or being sexually assaulted by prison staff members. When those in charge deny those basic rights to inmates, the victim(s) may be able to pursue and win a civil rights lawsuit. Doing so often requires deep knowledge of the law and the process, which means that most any such case would benefit from the services of an experienced Oregon jail civil rights lawyer to maximize the chances of success.

Coffee Creek Correctional Facility is Oregon’s lone women’s prison. Regrettably and inexcusably, Coffee Creek has been a site of recurring sexual abuse of prisoners almost from its opening in 2001. Starting in 2002 and continuing for several years, the prison landscape manager and three others sexually abused numerous inmates, leading to civil settlements between the state and 17 of those victims, according to The Oregonian.

Sadly, the abuse did not end there. Earlier this month, The Oregonian reported that Coffee Creek’s former prison nurse entered a plea on dozens of charges related to sexual assaults during his time working at the prison. The indictment included 21 charges related to the man’s sexual misconduct and four counts of perjury.

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No one deserves to die locked in a cage while suffering a slow, excruciating death caused by an untreated medical problem and exacerbated by jail authorities’ indifference to that inmate’s desperate pleas for treatment. Yet, all too often, that’s exactly what happens to incarcerated people in Oregon and across the United States. Federal law says that, when this happens, the harm that that prisoner suffered may constitute a violation of their civil rights. If you have a loved one to whom this happened then, with the aid of the right Oregon jail medical neglect lawyer, the civil justice system may offer help for your family.

Back in November, Reason published a piece about the medical neglect occurring in Arizona’s jails. Reason, of course, is a publication grounded in the Libertarian political viewpoint, but one need not be a Libertarian for the November piece to resonate.

The stories divulged are depressingly similar. In the very first paragraph, the piece lists multiple examples, including a paraplegic man who was “left to deteriorate” to such an extreme extent that an amputation ultimately was necessary, a woman with multiple sclerosis whose MS was “ignored and misdiagnosed” so egregiously that she ended up nearly totally paralyzed, and a man whose “undiagnosed, untreated lung cancer” caused him to lose 90 pounds and ultimately die “slowly and agonizingly without any pain medication.”

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The link below will take you to an article from the Yamhill News-Register covering five deaths that occurred in a six year period at the Yamhill County Jail.  In addition to the closed Jed Hawk Myers case, I am currently representing family members in three cases against Yamhill County and Wellpath, their contracted medical provider, for Civil Rights violations resulting in the death of folks who had not been convicted of any crime.  It doesn’t take very long to realize there is some commonality to these cases.

In the case of Kathy Norman, both the Yamhill County Sheriff’s deputies and the Wellpath Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) on duty were fully aware that Ms. Norman was beginning to detox from alcohol; they had been told by the ER providers, the transporting police officer, and Ms. Norman herself.  They also knew that detoxing from alcohol can be easily and successfully treated with medication.  They knew that the condition of folks detoxing from alcohol can change rapidly and can be deadly.  Nonetheless, they accepted custody of Ms. Norman and then never evaluated her detox symptoms or took any vital signs.  The Norman case has some similarities to the Jed Hawk Myers and Debbie Samples cases from 2015 and 2016.  All these cases involved detainees who were identified to be medically vulnerable and who needed to be lodged in a cell with video surveillance.  In both the Myers and Norman cases, they were put into these cells without any vital signs being taken, and no effort by anyone to return to get that crucial information.  In both the Norman and Myers cases deputies simply looked through the very narrow glass window in the cell door to do “security checks”. Security checks involve a deputy looking long enough (about 2 seconds) to make sure the person in the cell is present and alive.  These are not checks designed to obtain medical information.  In both Myers and Norman, it took them being on the floor and not breathing before anyone entered their cells to check on them.  In both the Samples and Norman cases, hospital providers communicated to the jail staff the need for specific care and conditions to watch out for; Samples being suicidal and Norman detoxing from alcohol.  Tragically in both situations, that advice went largely ignored and resulted in the preventable deaths from the exact conditions the Sheriff’s office was warned of.  Myers, Samples, and Norman needed to be checked on more frequently and with more attention until they were stable, or sent to an appropriate medical provider where they could get the necessary care.  Jail policies call for different levels of checks in terms of increments of time.  All inmates are checked by deputies at less than one-hour intervals; medical and suicide checks can be in 30 or 15 minute increments.  None of the victims were looked at any more often than any other detainees with no medical issues.

The county will say they have contracted with Wellpath and that they rely on them to deal with all medical issues.  “They are the experts…” But jail policies and Oregon laws state that ultimately inmate healthcare is still the county’s responsibility.  After all, it was only five months prior to Ms. Norman’s death that Sheriff Svenson wrote an editorial in the Yamhill County News Register taking full responsibility for Mr. Myers’ and Ms. Samples’ deaths.  “The buck stops here”, he wrote.  Apparently, that is just until the next jail death or his re-election comes along, as there have been three more deaths since that confessional editorial.  After Ms. Norman’s death, Sheriff Svenson was quoted in the local paper saying there is “zero indication” the staff was negligent in anyway.  He went on to praise the medical provider saying, “the contractor is doing a great job.” and “it’s nice to know there is a nurse in the jail at all times. It’s been very good.” While it is good to have someone with some medical training, it is too much for one LPN to take on alone.  There are times when the LPN is not able to closely monitor those in medical because the nurse often has to spend hours passing out medication to the other inmates and/or may be over at the juvenile facility.  How can this be Sheriff Svenson’s response when both medical and Yamhill County deputies knew Ms. Norman was detoxing, yet they took no vitals, took no detox history, did no detox evaluation, did not closely monitor her, withheld medication, and never called the ER staff for more information they might need to treat her.  They just locked her into the cell, never entered her cell to check on her condition, and failed to give her lifesaving medication.

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