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Suit Over Death in Rockwall County, Texas, Settles for $100,000

Rockwall County, Texas, and Lake Pointe Medical Center will pay $100,000 to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the mother of a prisoner who died after being turned away from the hospital twice in 2004.

Sharon Mann claimed in her state lawsuit that jailers and hospital medical staff had acted with deliberate indifference prior to the death of her son, William Ty Shugart.

Prior to his arrest for driving while intoxicated, Shugart had been taking methadone. Mann said her son was addicted to the tranquilizer Xanax and the opiate pain reliever hydrocodone. A representative of the methadone clinic where Shugart had been reporting daily offered to administer the medication. But jailers refused, citing a policy that only authorized jail personnel were allowed into the secure area to administer medication.

Instead, a jail doctor rewrote the prescription. The new prescription was for a lower dosage and for tablets rather than the injectable form of methadone Shugart had been taking. Shugart refused the lower dosage and said he would wean himself off the drug.

Eleven days after his arrest, Shugart was taken to Lake Pointe Medical Center on two different occasions after jailers noticed him standing naked in his cell covered with feces, unresponsive, and staring blankly ahead. On the second trip a guard reported that a nurse asked him if "that was the same nut from earlier." A physician said that all the applicable tests had been run and that they showed only low potassium levels.

The next day Shugart had a seizure and stopped breathing. He was again transported to the hospital, where he died three days later.

Terms of the settlement were confidential, but court documents obtained by Prison Legal News indicate the county will pay $43,000 plus up to $7,000 in applicable attorneys' fees. Ms. Mann confirmed the total settlement amount was $100,000.

Ms. Mann said family members, including Shugart's father, advised her to leave him in jail for his own good. She said her son was a smart, witty, sensitive person who simply had a hard time dealing with pain.

County attorney Bob Bass said the jail will change its policies to request a medical review of prisoners who refuse their medication instead of just noting it in their records.

Bass also asserted that the jail wasn't negligent or liable, but contended it was in the taxpayer's best interest to settle rather than proceed with a costly trial.

"We're running a jail. We're not running a hospital. We're not running a drug treatment facility," he said. Still, it would have been more humane, and cheaper, to have ensured that Shugart received the care he needed in the first place.

Mann was represented by G. David Smith of Rockwall, Texas. See: Mann v. Rockwall County Texas, 382nd Judicial District Court, Case No. 1-06-620.

Additional source: Dallas Morning News

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Related legal case

Mann v. Rockwall County Texas