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$450,000 Settlement in Alabama Jail Prisoner’s Death

by David M. Reutter

The estate of a prisoner who died at Alabama’s Washington County Jail has agreed to accept $450,000 to settle a wrongful death suit.

Shawn Desmond Woodard, 33, was being held at the Washington County Jail on a probation violation when he became sick on the evening of September 24, 2008. He then began to complain of chest pains.

“Before he was able to make it into his cell, he actually collapsed,” said attorney Samuel J. Briskman, who represented Woodard’s estate. Other prisoners helped Woodard to his bed. For the next 30 minutes they beat on the walls to gain the attention of the only guard on duty, Elton Sullivan.

Sullivan contacted dispatch, who relayed Woodard’s condition to Chief Deputy Terry Beasley. According to the complaint, Beasley instructed Sullivan to give Woodard aspirin. Prisoners at the jail made two other fruitless efforts to obtain help for Woodard; however, an ambulance was not called and he died.

Jail officials were skeptical of Woodard’s complaints due to his age. “They did not believe he was having a heart attack, ostensibly,” said Briskman. “They just didn’t believe it was possible.” An expert was prepared to testify that had jail officials acted quickly, there was a 90 percent chance that Woodard would have survived.

In May 2011, Woodard’s estate accepted a $25,000 settlement from the Washington County E911 Commission. That followed an earlier settlement with the jail for $425,000. The sheriff has said he will add more staff to prevent such incidents from happening in the future.

“I think [Woodard’s relatives] were gratified to see some of the efforts by the sheriff to change the procedures,” Briskman stated. “They wanted to see some good come from this.” See: Estate of Woodard v. Washington County, U.S.D.C. (D. Ala.), Case No. 1:10-cv-00236-WS-M.

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Related legal case

Estate of Woodard v. Washington County