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Suit Filed for Oregon Jail Pneumonia Death

Holly Jean Casey, a homeless 36-year-old heroin addict, lived a rough life and died an agonizing death on the floor of an Oregon jail cell on January 4, 2008.

The day before she died, Casey was on her way to the hospital when she was arrested in Portland for failing to appear in court on a misdemeanor theft charge. Between coughs, Casey told police she had missed court because she was sick.

When she was booked into the Multnomah County Detention Center (MCDC), Oregon’s largest jail, police told guards at the facility that she had pneumonia. Casey filled out a medical request stating, “I’ve got pneumonia for 3 days. Won’t go away. I have difficulty breathing. It hurts bad. I have no energy. I have lupus and no spleen.”

A nurse examined Casey and noted her wheezing, labored breathing and racing heart. She was given several puffs from an Albuterol inhaler, which seemed to help, but was not seen by a doctor or given any other treatment.

By the next morning Casey’s condition had worsened. She “begged for help yelling, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, please help me,’” according to a federal suit filed by her estate. “For several hours she hit the call light buzzer and she banged on the jail cell door crying for help. In response, deputies yelled at Casey to shut up. A female deputy yelled at Casey to get off the floor.”

Other prisoners heard Casey’s buzzer go off repeatedly. Two prisoners tried to summon help by pushing their own call buttons but deputies ignored them, the complaint alleges. Guards failed to conduct regular cell checks as required.

Soon after shift change, Deputy Leo Irvan performed his first safety and welfare check at 7:32 a.m. He saw Casey lying on the floor in a semi-fetal position, wearing only underwear and a T-shirt. He asked prisoner Laurie Tucker to check on her. Casey was not breathing; her skin was cold and blue and she was in full rigor mortis, indicating she had been dead for quite some time.

State Medical Examiner Dr. Karen L. Gunson performed an autopsy later that day and determined the cause of Casey’s death was pneumonia, exacerbated by her lack of a spleen, which fights infections.

On December 30, 2009, Casey’s estate, representing the interests of her minor son, filed suit in federal court against the county, its contract healthcare provider, Maxim Health Systems LLC, and 24 guards, nurses and other jail staff. The lawsuit, which raises wrongful death and negligence claims, seeks $1 million in damages for funeral costs and pain and suffering. The case remains pending; Casey’s estate is represented by Portland attorneys Hala J. Gores and Matthew D. Kaplan. See: Wheeler v. Multnomah County, U.S.D.C. (D. Ore.), Case No. 3:09-cv-01518-AC.

Source: The Oregonian

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Related legal case

Wheeler v. Multnomah County