A federal court lawsuit against DeKalb County over the death of an inmate while in custody of the Sheriff's Department two years ago has been set for a jury trial in December.
Doris Hullett filed the lawsuit a year ago in the death of her son, Jackie Lee Snider, who was arrested December 31, 2009 and died on January 30, 2010 after being taken from the jail to DeKalb Community Hospital. According to the lawsuit, "the medical examiner reported that Snider died of pancreatitis, which is an extremely painful and serious medical condition. If Snider's pancreatitis had been treated on or before the morning of January 30, 2010, Snider would have survived without permanent, long term consequences".
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants violated Snider's constitutional rights when they denied him reasonable medical care for his serious medical condition, thereby causing him extensive pain and suffering and ultimately death.
In response to the lawsuit, Sheriff Patrick Ray released the following statement to WJLE. "I have been advised by the County Attorney to decline discussions or comments on any pending litigation; however, I have confidence in my employees and in the manner of the operations of the DeKalb County Jail," said Sheriff Ray.
Defendants named in the lawsuit include DeKalb County; Patrick Ray, individually and in his official capacity as Sheriff; Kenneth Ray, Rick Smith, Jim Hendrix, Mark Nichols, Ernie Hargis, Kyle Casper, individually and in their official capacities; John Does 1-4; Renee Riddle, LPN; Robert Alan Stultz, PA; and Southern Health Partners, Inc.
Hullett is seeking compensatory damages against all defendants, jointly and severally in the amount of $750,000; an award, including loss of consortium in the amount of $750,000; punitive damages in the amount of $1,250,000; attorney fees and litigation expenses in an amount to be determined at trial; and treble damages; plus such other and further legal and or equitable relief to which she may be entitled or the court deems proper.
The lawsuit was brought against DeKalb County because it is "responsible for the funding for the operation of the Sheriff's Department and the DeKalb County Jail and that the county was the employer" of the other defendants.
Sheriff Ray is named in the lawsuit because he was "the policymaker and most senior decision maker with respect to establishing, implementing and training of employees on the rules, regulations and policies and practices of the DeKalb County Jail applicable to the delivery of Jail detainee health care".
Kenneth Ray is named because he was employed "as jail administrator with supervisory authority over the jail employees and detainees, including Snider. Ray was further responsible for the training of the jail employees on the jail policies and practices applicable to the delivery of Jail detainee health care".
Defendants Rick Smith, Jim Hendrix, Mark Nichols, Ernie Hargis, and Kyle Casper "were correction officers working at the jail, who were responsible for implementing the Jail's policy and procedures applicable to the delivery of Jail detainee health care," according to the lawsuit.
Defendants John Does 1-4 "are other unidentified employees at the jail, who upon belief and information were correction officers working at the Jail and who were responsible for implementing the Jail's policy and procedures applicable to the delivery of Jail detainee health care".
Southern Health Partners, Inc (SHP) is a company doing business in the state and performing the traditional state government function of providing health care to Jail detainees through a contractual relationship with the county, and as such, all actions and inaction of SHP and its employees in the health care evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of Snider were acting under color of state law. Accordingly, SHP and its employees are state actors for the purposes of liability."
"Renee Riddle is a licensed practical nurse, who is employed by SHP and working at the Jail at all times mentioned" in the lawsuit.
"Robert Alan Stults, PA is a licensed physician's assistant, who is employed by SHP and working at the Jail at all times mentioned" in the lawsuit.
The underlying facts alleged in the lawsuit are as follows:
"On or about December 31, 2009, Snider was arrested and taken to the Jail. He was under the continuous exclusive custody and control of the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department and its employees and officials during his incarceration until he died on January 30, 2010. During his incarceration, the only health care evaluation and or treatment made available to him was through SHP, Riddle and Stults".
"On or about January 3, 2010 Snider began vomiting 6-7 times a day which continued in such an amount nearly every day until his death. From January 3-30, 2010, Snider complained every day to correction officers of severe abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting", according to the lawsuit.
"Between January 15-26, Hullett repeatedly called the Jail and complained about Snider being sick and needing to be "seen by a medical doctor". On each occasion, Hullett was told by defendants Ray, Smith, and Hendrix that "we will watch him."
"On January 4, Snider complained of abdominal pain to Riddle, who was the nurse on duty at the Jail. Riddle did not evaluate Snider's complaints nor did she report such to a physician or physician assistant. Riddle did not follow up with Snider on his complaints," according to the lawsuit.
"On January 12, Snider was seen by Riddle. During this examination, Snider complained of stomach pain, nausea, dizziness, headaches, nervousness, vomiting, and muscle and joint problems". Significant weight loss was not addressed by Riddle, nor did she consult with a physician or assistant regarding Snider's physical change."
"On January 16, Snider complained to Smith of chest pain, tightness of the chest, heart burn, heart racing and headache. Snider asked to be transported to the emergency room. Snider's request was ignored by Smith, and Snider was not examined by a health care provider that day."
"On January 16, Smith made notes in the Jail computer regarding Snider needing to be seen by a health care provider, but these were erased from the computer."
"On January 17, Smith instructed Casper to give Snider a sick call slip to see the doctor the next day. Smith told Casper that Snider was sick, but Casper failed and refused to do so. Snider was not allowed to see the doctor."
"On January 18, Hullet called the Sheriff at home. She told him that Snider was sick and she asked him if Snider saw the "doctor" who had visited the Jail that day. The Sheriff told Hullett that only one inmate had seen the doctor that day and it was not Snider. Hullett, again, insisted to the Sheriff that Snider needed to see a doctor."
"On January 18, Smith called Riddle and stated, that Snider was complaining of anxiety. Snider was not seen by the nurse or doctor, and he was not provided any health care in response to his complaint."
"On January 19, Riddle saw Snider because as she told him,"your mom kept calling", and he needed to tell her to "quit worrying me to death". Riddle documented that Snider "doesn't feel well. During the approximate 3rd and 4th weeks of January, 2010, Hullett spoke with Riddle on approximately three separate occasions. During each of these occasions Hullett told Riddle that Snider was hurting and needed to be seen by a doctor. Riddle replied to Hullett, "we will take care of him."
"On January 25, Snider completed an Inmate Sick Call Slip and writes, "..Almost 2 weeks hurting bad.." The assessment of Snider by Riddle on January 25 does not reflect that there was a detailed history taken to evaluate such pain, nor was Snider's abdomen examined. Riddle did not make a referral to a physician or assistant for evaluation of Snider's complaint of "two weeks' of abdominal pain."
According to the lawsuit, "On January 30, Snider was carried out of the general detainee population and placed in the floor of the holding cell. Snider laid in the holding cell, vomiting on himself for 30 minutes before an ambulance was dispatched by county officials. When the paramedics arrived, they found Snider with vomitus around his head. He was pulseless, No one had begun chest compressions prior to the paramedics arriving. Snider was transported to DeKalb Community Hospital. He could not be resuscitated. He was pronounced dead in less than an hour after arrival to the hospital."
The lawsuit claims that "with full knowledge that Jail detainees would suffer inadequate health care for their serious medical conditions, the county inadequately provided the Sheriff with funds to operate the Jail. Because of this and rising health care costs of the Jail detainees, the Sheriff had a policy and practice that allowed the release of Jail detainees to obtain their own health care for their non-serious and serious medical problems. At the conclusion of such health care treatment, the released detainees were arrested and re-incarcerated. This custom, policy and practice existed prior to and after Snider's death. Defendants never provided this option to Snider", according to the lawsuit.
"Additionally, the Sheriff had a custom, policy and practice of minimizing Jail detainee's access to health care outside of the Jail, for which the Sheriff and not SHP, was financially responsible. This action was taken to control the rising Jail detainee health cost with the Sheriff's full knowledge of the risk that such actions were life-threatening to Jail detainees and would cause a deprivation of Jail detainees' federally protected rights."
"By virtue of the facts pled herein, defendants acted objectively and subjectively with deliberate indifference to the health care needs of Snider for treatment of his serious medical condition, which were the proximate and direct cause of Hullett's emotional pain and suffering and Snider's emotional and physical pain and suffering and death." according to the lawsuit.
Hullett is represented by Cynthia A. Wilson and Kenneth S. Williams of Cookeville while the County, Sheriff, Kenneth Ray, Rick Smith, Jim Hendrix, Mark Nichols, Ernie Hargis, and Kyle Casper are all represented by Jennifer Orr Locklin of Nashville. Riddle, Stultz, and Southern Health Partners, Inc. are represented by Daniel F. Beasley of Huntsville, Alabama.