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Maricopa County Settles Fatal Denial of Prisoner Medical Care Suit for $200,000

On September 16, 2004, Maricopa County, Arizona settled for $200,000 a lawsuit involving the death of a county jail prisoner due to denial of medical dare and medical neglect.

On March 16, 2002, Louella Stevens was booked into the Maricopa County Estrella Jail. Four days later, she died of peritonitis due to an untreated perforated gastric ulcer.

On March 19th, Stevens complained to a nurse of being unable to keep fluids down and abdominal pain. Over the phone and without examining Stevens, an M.D. ordered that she be given Ibuprofen, a medication which worsened her abdominal problems. Later that day, she was sent to the infirmary complaining of vomiting and diarrhea, but was ignored when she didn't vomit within the hour she was allowed to stay in the infirmary.

Early on March 20th, a guard told an RN that Stevens was "puking all over the dorm." The RN noted that Stevens had not taken her medications. Stevens said she was "too busy puking." The RN chided her for not taking the medications, but ignored her abdominal pain and vomiting.

Guards repeatedly called medical providers to alert them to the fact that Stevens was vomiting and in severe pain throughout the early morning. Their reaction was to ignore her and claim she was just a junkie seeking drugs.

The RN visited Stevens at around 4:00 a.m. She was crying in pain, grasping her stomach and rocking back and forth. When she begged for help and said she was dying, the RN told her to "shut up" and "this is what you deserve for being a junkie." The RN then threatened to put her in isolation "where no one would hear her screaming or yelling," noting in her chart that she did not appear to be in acute distress.

A guard gave Stevens a blanket and allowed her to sit in the day room, but soon sought to have her moved because her crying and moaning due to severe chest and abdominal pain was disturbing the other prisoners on the dorm. Stevens was taken by wheelchair to an isolation intake cell full of garbage around 5:00 a.m. At 6:36 a.m., she was found dead in the cell.

Stevens's mother and minor daughter hired Scotsdale, Arizona attorney David J. Don and Phoenix, Arizona attorney Joel B. Robbins to file a state tort lawsuit against Maricopa County and jail personnel in state court. Maricopa County settled the suit for $200,000.

See: Jones v. Maricopa County, Ariz. Superior Ct., Maricopa Co., No. CV2002-024945.

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Related legal case

Jones v. Maricopa County