Inmate Dies of Hyperthermia, Overcrowded Facilities

(June 24 ,2012)

A Richmond Jail inmate died of heat exposure, and now his estate is seeking over $10 million in a wrongful-death lawsuit, alleging that the city and the Sheriff’s Office failed to protect him from inhuman conditions in the overcrowded facility.

The assistant chief medical examiner who performed the autopsy claims that “if he hadn’t been in the jail, he wouldn’t be dead from hyperthermia.” The victim died on June 26, 2010, at age 55, after suffering a fatal stroke while being housed in jail. The men’s tiers have no air conditioning, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court of Richmond.

Jail employees found the victim slumped over in the hospital bed, reporting trouble breathing and a 104.5 temperature, on June 18, 2010. He was unresponsive, and his pre-death bladder temperature was all the way at 107.6.

The complaint alleges that city officials, as well as the sheriff, had known for many years that this jail had inhumane conditions and did nothing to remedy them.  The complaint also says that these defendants failed to provide this man with adequate medical care.

This lawsuit marks wrongful-death lawsuit #2 to target this jail. Back in September, a Richmond jury returned a $2.4 million verdict in a similar case involving an inmate.

The FBI launched a civil-rights investigation into alleged assault of a jail inmate by a former Richmond sheriff’s deputy back in January. In October, two Richmond deputies were indicted, one count each, of having carnal knowledge of separate female inmates at the city jail.

In addition, the jail fired one employee and suspended another after a September incident that accidentally released an inmate back on the streets. Unfortunately, this man went back to the same bank he went to jail for robbing, and robbed them again.

An attempt to remedy this jail’s overcrowding issue had been made, and by 2014, there will be a new jail scheduled to open. However, many are concerned that it will immediately be overcrowded.

The deceased victim was believed to be homeless, and was arrested back in June, 2010, with a charge of writing a threatening letter to the governor and his daughter. Two days later, he was transferred to the Richmond Jail, unbeknownst that this jail would cause his death.

Upon transfer, the detention facility officers let the Richmond jail staff know that this man has schizophrenia, and “may be less likely than a person not suffering from mental illness to communicate coherently his needs to others” and the likelihood of heat-related illness is “dramatically more so for mentally ill inmates who often do not know how to take appreciate behavioral steps to deal with the heat.” However, the jail staff decided not to house him on the jail’s main medical tier or psychiatric tier.

The day after this man was brought to the city jail, a deputy found him bleeding from his head. He was taken to VCU Medical Center, but he reported normal results on all the vitals, so he was returned to the jail.

The next day, he was found unresponsive. Medical records do not lead us to believe that any nurse “began any emergency response or first aid for a heat-related emergency.”

Emergency personnel from the Richmond Ambulance Authority said that when they arrived, the man was in respiratory arrest, and was suffering from hyperthermia. They claim that the jail staff was “standing around looking at him, and no rescue efforts were being done.”

He died in a coma on June 26, 2010.

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