Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Florida Jail Pays Prisoner's Family $2.5 Million in Methadone Withdrawal Death

On May 23, 2001, Karen Johnson, 43, literally died of medical neglect while being held prisoner in the Orange County Jail in Orlando, Florida.

In July, 2002 PLN reported how Johnson desperately pleaded with her captors to continue her methadone medication. She offered to pay for treatment with her insurance; she offered to pay from her account. No one listened. Johnson died.

Undoubtedly, Attorney E. Clay Parker, who represented Johnson's estate, shared the morbid details of how his client suffered for hours from diarrhea, cramps, and chills. All the classical symptoms of methadone withdrawal that precede death.

Undoubtedly, witnesses Cheryl Chattier and Cynthia Jones shared how they had to watch in horror as Johnson lay agonizing on the floor, her pleas for help ignored by jail medical staff and guards.

Undoubtedly, her ex-husband related how Johnson had feared for her life long before she reached the jail afraid because she knew about Susan Bennett, another prisoner who had died from methadone withdrawals in the very same jail.

"She knew she wouldn't get the methadone," said Rusty Johnson. He described his former wife as terrified at "what was coming and not being able to do anything about it."

Johnson was serving time for driving without a valid license. Just before her arrest, despair drove her to overdose on tranquilizers. After being revived at Sand Lake Hospital, Johnson was escorted to the jail by guard Linda Austin. "[E]verything had gotten too much" she confessed to Austin. Johnson told the guard that she was afraid she was going to be allowed to die like Bennett. Her words were prophetic; her fears were confirmed.

Attorney Walter Ketcham, in defense of the county, argued that Johnson was properly monitored and her death was not the result of methadone withdrawal, but ultimately fiction failed and truth prevailed.

The jail was not equipped to properly care for methadone patients; and Karen Johnson was the second methadone patient to die in their custody.

On November 10, 2003 Orange County agreed to pay $2.5 million in damages to the survivors of Johnson's estate. The settlement came during mediation. According to plaintiff's counsel, the other defendants, including jail staff in their individual capacity and Interim Health Care Staffing and J&C Nationwide, Inc., settled claims against them for "an undisclosed amount." See: Muszynski v. Orange County, Florida, Orange County Circuit Court Case No. 6:03-CV-655-Orl-18 KRS.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Muszynski v. Orange County, Florida