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Lawsuit Filed in Sketchy Jail Death

10 Apr

At the end of 2013 I wrote about the death of inmate Terry Edwards at the Jefferson County jail. Edwards, who was being held for driving on a suspended license, had been there for two days after being arrested by St. Louis County police. He died of a perforated ulcer.

Now, a multi-million dollar lawsuit has been filed against the county over this death. The suit contends that Edwards was in major pain from the afternoon of November 28, 2013 (Thanksgiving Day) until his death early the next morning, and that his requests for help were shrugged off by jail staff and the doctor (who was reached by phone).

According to the jail’s IJMS (Inmate Jail Management System) log, the doctor was called at 4:20 pm on the 28th due to Edwards’ “massive stomach pains,” and said to give him Milk of Magnesia. The doctor was called again at 8:58 pm because Edwards had “bad lower stomach pains and his shoulder and arm was hurting.” The doctor said to give Edwards Motrin and have him see the nurse in the morning. Edwards refused the Motrin. (Of note, ibuprofen and other NSAIDs can actually cause ulcers). Deputies’ reports say he was last seen alive at about 2:15 am. It was at about 4:20 am that Edwards was found to be unresponsive and the ambulance was called. He was pronounced dead at 4:44 am.

What The Lawsuit Says

According to the lawsuit, two other inmates stated that Edwards made additional and repeated requests for medical assistance, but jail officials declined, claiming that he was “dope sick” (he was not found to have drugs in his system). The inmates stated that they also asked, and even begged, jail officials to help him, and that he was vomiting blood. One inmate told this version of events to Fox 2:

“He had been having stomach pains, and he was leaned over holding his belly,” the inmate, who did not want to be identified, said.

He went on to say that Edwards asked jail authorities for help.

“Like six or seven times,” he said.

Here’s a contemporaneous Facebook posting:

FB_screenshot2

What Sheriff Records Say

According to one corrections officer (CO), Edwards complained of back pain at 5:45 pm on the 28th, but did not mention any pain when his meal was delivered at 7 pm or at 10:30 pm. This officer mentions no other contact with the inmate until the time he was found unresponsive after 4 am.

Another CO reported that Edwards never asked for medical treatment or mentioned any medical problems. A third CO who interacted with Edwards during the afternoon of the 28th saw him in a vomiting position but says he observed no blood coming up. He also stated with a suspicious tone that Edwards only asked for help when he could see a CO, but did not ask for help when he did not see one. (That kinda seems reasonable to me.)

The CO who apparently was last to see Edwards alive, at 2:15 am, said he complained of stomach pains and asked for something “to calm his stomach.” The CO denied this request, due to his refusal of Motrin, and told Edwards to see the nurse, who was scheduled to arrive at the jail at 9 am.

Discrepancy?

There are apparent differences between what one inmate told the COs and what he told the plaintiff’s attorneys. This is in a CO report:

cox2

This is in the lawsuit:

cox1

The latter statement has additional details; one might wonder why these details were not shared with the COs. But maybe Cox did not feel comfortable placing blame on the COs while he was still in custody. Of note, it does not appear that the COs took statements from any of the neighboring inmates, including one who claimed in the lawsuit that he had asked the COs to help Edwards.

In general, this lawsuit will have to overcome the general tendency to trust law enforcement officers over those who’ve been accused of crimes (however minor) and incarcerated, as well as the probability that there are inmates who lie about medical problems. But the fact that Edwards was fine when he entered the jail and shortly thereafter died of a treatable condition is also a hard fact to explain away.

Contractor

At the time, and I believe currently, the jail contracted with Correctional Healthcare Companies for inmate medical care. This company has been hit with a number of lawsuits for inadequate provision of care and may find itself a party to this lawsuit at some point.

Other Recent Jail Deaths

  • Bradley Kingery – heroin overdose; 2012; arrested during a traffic stop and wanted on outstanding traffic warrants.
  • Michael Abboud – cause unknown at this time; last month; being held for tampering with a motor vehicle and leaving the scene of an accident.

Plaintiffs Proliferate in Pursuit of Politician Pay

22 Mar

On the last day of 2015, Bruce King, Democrat former elected public administrator for Jefferson County who was defeated for re-election in 2012, filed a lawsuit in Jefferson County court against the county, alleging that the county charter had been misinterpreted and that he was not paid as much money as he should have been. The lawsuit demanded back pay and retroactive credits towards retirement.

At the time, observers including me speculated that King was merely a front man, one who no longer had a political career to protect, who was filing the suit on behalf of other greedy incumbent elected officials. Well that belief has been affirmed, because a slew of current and former county elected officials added their names to the suit in January of this year. Most notable, I would say, is county executive Ken Waller, a Republican, who I hear is actively pursuing another job at this time, with two years left in his term. Here is the rest of the list of new plaintiffs:

  • Mark Abel – Democrat deceased former treasurer. His wife is also on the suit, presumably to collect his posthumous windfall.
  • Chuck Banks – Democrat former county commissioner.
  • Marlene Castle – Democrat former recorder of deeds.
  • Randy Holman – Democrat former assessor and current appointed county clerk (put in place by Waller).
  • Pat Lamping – Democrat former county commissioner.
  • Beth Mahn – Democrat current collector.
  • Linda Nees – Democrat former treasurer.
  • Terry Roesch – Democrat outgoing assessor.
  • Dorothy Stafford – Democrat former auditor.
  • Wes Wagner – Democrat former county clerk, who left in the middle of his term for a private sector job.
  • Steve Farmer – Republican current public administrator.

We must condemn the above officials, all of whom are/were making $70-85,000, who knew when they took their jobs what they would be paid, but are now going to the courts to attempt to extract money from taxpayers, in many cases well after they left office. But let us praise those elected officials (who served prior to 2017) who have apparently chosen not to join this lawsuit (let me know if I missed someone):

  • Richard Carter – Republican current assessor.
  • Debbie Dunnegan – Republican current recorder of deeds.
  • Forrest Wegge – Democrat current prosecutor.
  • Michael Reuter – Republican current circuit court clerk.
  • Howard Wagner – Democrat former circuit court clerk.
  • Glenn Boyer – Democrat former sheriff.
  • Survivors of Ed Kemp, Democrat deceased former county commissioner.

The plaintiffs are citing section 7.7.3.11 of the county charter (page 38), which says that “the annual salary of every elected County Officer is not to be less than the annual salary of the holder of the equivalent office in a first-class non-charter county.” The suit then goes on the cite the salaries of elected officeholders in Boone County (which is where Columbia is). Never mind that there are 13 other first-class non-charter counties they could have chosen to compare with JeffCo.The lawsuit says:

“The clear intent also was to provide that…salaries would be adjusted upward to match those of office holders of the highest paying first class non-charter county.”

Doesn’t sound clear to me at all. In general, this seems like a poorly thought out and drafted provision.

All told, this lawsuit could cost the county over $600,000, according to the Leader. This is in addition to the legal costs, as the county has hired an outside law firm to deal with this case (see page 22).

Speaking of lawyers, local attorney and JeffCo GOP apparatchik Derrick Good is one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys in this case. He even helped write the damn county charter that he is trying to exploit via loophole in true lawyerly fashion. Did he help draft the provision in question? It is sad (sad!) to see several supposed conservatives joining in on this effort to divert taxpayer money to their bank accounts.

Heroin and Foster Care in Jefferson County

4 Mar

A number of recent news articles have appeared recently on the area’s heroin/opioid epidemic and specifically how it impacts the foster care system. Jefferson County in particular is affected by the combination of heroin use and a lack of foster homes. According to a KSDK report, there are 350 children in foster care in the county that can’t be placed with family members, but only 60 foster homes.

A recent Post-Dispatch article, accompanied by a stark front-page photo of two addicts shooting up in their kitchen, provided this chart of local heroin death rates:

heroin-rates

While STL City has far and away the worst problem, Jefferson and Franklin have the next highest rates among area counties.

Another P-D article highlighted the effects of heroin on the foster system in the region:

“We are in desperate need of more foster parents for the first time in a decade and a half,” said Melanie Scheetz, executive director of the Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition of St. Louis. “We need them for both newborns and older children.”

This article states that the number of JeffCo kids in foster care has increased by 20 percent in the past five years, while STL City and County have gone up by about 30 percent.

This graphic, also from the P-D, shows birth rates by county of children with opioid withdrawal symptoms:heroin-births

JeffCo is not in the top ten in the state in this statistic, and our 8.68 per 1,000 rate is lower than what is seen in Franklin, Washington, and St. Francois Counties, but higher than Ste. Genevieve and St. Louis Counties.

Local Response

Judge Darrell Missey, who sees foster care trends firsthand in his courtroom, helped start a group called Fostering Hope, and he is highlighted in this KSDK news report (definitely watch the video). This group helps spread the word about the need for more foster parents and lets churches and other groups know what they can do to help.

missey

Jefferson County Judge Darrell Missey

First Baptist Church in Arnold has started a One Less Orphan ministry. The goals of this program are to recruit, train, and support foster and adoptive parents.

The Jefferson County Foster Children’s Fund helps support foster children and parents by providing events and donations.

Nathan Stewart Update

27 Jan

I can provide updates on the Nathan Stewart situation, in which the now former Jefferson County judge was in a November car crash and suspected by the Highway Patrol of driving while intoxicated. The current Department of Revenue (DOR) case, in which Stewart is challenging the revocation of his drivers license for failing to take a breathalyzer test, has been transferred to Madison County (after having most recently been assigned for almost a month to the woman who defeated Stewart in the November election, Dianna Bartels). This is the county south of St. Francois County, and the courthouse is in Fredericktown. This took place about a week ago; the week before that, JeffCo presiding judge Darrell Missey ordered the case be removed from our county circuit court.

As for the criminal investigation, Steph Watson from the Missouri Office of Prosecution Services (MOPS) has been appointed as special prosecutor. MOPS is an autonomous entity “created to assist prosecuting attorneys in their efforts against criminal activity within the state.” As Watson’s bio says, “Upon appointment, she serves as special assistant prosecutor or special prosecutor in various counties throughout the state.” She will also argue on behalf of the DOR against Stewart. She was appointed by the court on December 5 upon the recommendation of Jefferson County prosecutor Forrest Wegge. No charges have yet been filed, and I’m not sure in which county they would be filed; probably either in Jefferson before being transferred, or directly to Madison County.

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