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Michigan Jail Officials Lied and Hid Documents in Lawsuit Over Prisoner’s Death

Michigan Jail Officials Lied and Hid Documents in Lawsuit Over Prisoner’s Death

by David M. Reutter

On the eve of trial, a Michigan U.S. District Court adjourned a civil rights suit to reopen fact finding in the case. That rare development resulted after it was revealed that officials at the Lenawee County Sheriff’s Department concealed statements in an internal affairs investigation and gave false testimony in a lawsuit over the death of a prisoner at the county jail.

The adjournment occurred on December 23, 2008 in a federal suit filed by the family of 45-year-old Yolanda Flores, a diabetic heroin addict who died after guards refused to give her insulin, even when she had it delivered to the jail. Another prisoner said Flores had begged for her medication, but guards placed it outside her cell door where she couldn’t reach it.

During discovery depositions, jail officials testified under oath that they had turned over all documents relative to Flores’ December 13, 2006 death, that no internal investigation had been conducted, and that they did not know Flores needed medical attention.

Meanwhile, attorney David A. Robinson, who represents former Lenawee County jail prisoner Aaron Borck in an unrelated lawsuit, was pressing for records of medical complaints despite being told they did not exist. His efforts resulted in the eventual release of previously undisclosed February 2007 statements taken during an internal affairs investigation conducted by former Undersheriff Gale Dotson.

Borck is suing jail officials who ignored his repeated requests for medical care, which resulted in his appendix bursting and severe complications that included removal of his colon. See: Borck v. County of Lenawee, USDC (ED Mich.), Case No. 2:07-15124-MOB-RSW.

The district court had previously dismissed jail guards James Whiteman, Paul Dye and Leo Swinehart as defendants in the Flores litigation because there was no evidence linking them to her death. Each had denied in sworn depositions that they had any contact with investigators, or that there was even an investigation into Flores’ death. The new documents uncovered in the Borck case, however, included statements from the three guards; they all had been disciplined, with Whiteman being fired.

“The Court has a few concerns,” said U.S. District Judge David M. Lawson, referring to statements made in four separate depositions – including one given by former Sheriff Lawrence Richardson, Jr. – that indicated all documents relevant to the Flores case had been provided to plaintiff’s counsel. “It’s difficult to assess the impact of these statements and the failure to disclose information that should have been turned over,” Judge Lawson noted.

For example, Swinehart had testified during his deposition that he didn’t know Flores was in need of medical treatment. But in his statement from the internal affairs investigation, he admitted he was aware of Flores’ blood sugar level and said, “I dropped the ball when I did not call the doctor.”

Robinson has requested a forensic examination of the Sheriff Department’s computers and video records, claiming the department can’t be trusted that its records are complete in light of the recent disclosure of previously concealed documents.

Craig Tank, the attorney for Flores’ family, said the guards’ statements show the defendants “have lied ... and hid documents that could have drastically changed the course of the proceedings.”

In an April 1, 2009 order, the district court granted in part a motion to reopen the case, reinstated Swinehart, Whiteman and Dye as defendants, and provided time for additional discovery. A new trial date has been scheduled for September 15, 2009. See: Flores v. County of Lenawee, USDC (ED Mich.), Case No. 2:07-cv-11288-DML-SDP.

Additional source: Detroit News

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Related legal cases

Flores v. County of Lenawee

Borck v. County of Lenawee