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Prisoner Education Guide

Nebraska Judge Dismisses Charges Against Omaha Jailers

by Matt Clarke

Douglas County, Nebraska District Court Judge Peter Bataillon has dismissed official misconduct charges against jailers who allegedly let a prisoner bleed to death while he begged for his life. Bataillon interpreted Jail Standards Board regulations as putting the burden of ensuring that prisoners receive medical care solely on the facility administrator, not on the jail’s line staff.

In September 2007, Alexander Simoens, 47, was in the Omaha City Jail on charges of driving with a suspended license when he began to experience serious medical problems.
Simoens was in agony and begged for medical attention for two days, writhing in his cell and vomiting blood, while jailers ignored his condition and pleas for help. Finally, he collapsed and was taken to a hospital where he died of gastrointestinal bleeding caused by a ruptured ulcer.

“In hindsight, we would have prescribed appropriate medical attention,” said Omaha Police Chief Thomas Warren.

Jail surveillance cameras captured Simoens’ plight, and the video sparked outrage among his family members and others who viewed it. In December 2007, a grand jury indicted jail supervisors Jeanelle Moore and Andrew Freeman, as well as guards Mark Haefele and Joachim Dankiw, on misdemeanor charges of official misconduct in connection with Simoens’ death. [See: PLN, July 2008, p.36].

Judge Bataillon threw out the criminal charges against the supervisors in March 2009 because he found insufficient evidence that they had direct knowledge of Simoens’ medical condition, leaving only the misdemeanor charges against the guards.

In April 2011, within a week of a scheduled trial, Bataillon dismissed the charges against Dankiw on the grounds that the Nebraska Jail Standards Board regulations gave insufficient notice to low-level guards that they were responsible for providing medical care to prisoners. Judge Bataillon’s ruling effectively dismissed the charges against Haefele, too.

The Board regulation states, “Observation of inmates: If there are indications of illness or injury, the facility administrator shall, to the best of his ability, insure that the proper medical attention is provided as soon as possible.”

“I don’t interpret that regulation to be that expansive to go beyond the facility administrator,” said Judge Bataillon. In interpreting the Jail Standards Board regulations, however, Bataillon ignored the jail’s own operations manual, which said individual jailers were responsible for ensuring that prisoners receive “adequate medical care.”

Does this mean no one bears criminal responsibility for the fatal denial of emergency medical attention to prisoners at the Omaha City Jail? Apparently so.

“I’m appalled. I’m appalled that they’re sweeping it under the carpet and acting like my father never died in that jail,” said Simoens’ son, Shawn. “I want to see somebody held accountable for my father’s death,” he added. “These guys are walking scot-free while my dad is sitting [in an urn] on top of my TV.”

Unable to find justice on the criminal side of the law, Simoens’ family is pursuing a federal lawsuit against the city and jail officials. That suit remains pending, with a trial scheduled in April 2012. See: Higgins v. Dankiw, U.S.D.C. (D. Neb.), Case No. 8:08-cv-00015-JFB-TDT.

Sources: Omaha World-Herald, www.therepublic.com, nebraskastatepaper.com, www.wowt.com

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Higgins v. Dankiw


 

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