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Eighth Circuit Seeks Clarification from Arkansas Supreme Court; Arkansas’ “Conscious Indifference” Equals Federal “Deliberate Indifference”?

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals asked the Arkansas Supreme Court to clarify if the State’s conscious indifference standard affords pretrial detainees greater protection than the federal deliberate indifference standard. The Court also affirmed a lower court’s exclusion of evidence concerning Arkansas Jail Standards.

On October 15, 2000, “Van Buren, Arkansas Police Officer Michael Sharum responded to an accident report involving a vehicle in a creek.” Daniel Grayson was standing next to the creek, soaking wet and claiming “his vehicle was going to ‘blow up.’” Sharum tried to arrest Grayson for driving while intoxicated, and Grayson became combative. Sharum, struggling to gain control…struck Grayson on the head with his duty weapon, and then Grayson cooperated with the arrest.”

Sharum told jailers “he was ‘pretty sure’ Grayson was under the influence of some narcotic.” Some staff believed Grayson should be taken to the hospital, but the shift supervisor “decided to book him into the jail, stating that the jail had booked detainees in worse condition.”

Grayson was placed in an observation cell at 2:55 p.m., where he behaved normally and remained quiet until 5:00 p.m., when he began screaming. He was “sitting on the floor with his shirt off, screaming and rubbing his eyes with the palms of his hands.” By 5:15 p.m., Grayson was naked and screaming. At 5:23 p.m., Grayson was standing and sweating. At 5:30 p.m., a small pool of blood was noticed on the floor. Grayson was bent over with his back to the door. By 5:36 p.m., Grayson was covered in blood. He had succeeded in mutilating himself and was attempting to harm himself further.

Guards pulled him from the cell, in a face-down position and tried to restrain him by lying across the backs of his knees. “A prolonged struggle ensued, in which Grayson’s arm was broken and his shoulder dislocated.” Medical technicians began treating Grayson at 6:00 p.m., but at 6:09 p.m., he stopped breathing. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful. “Grayson died of excited delirium as a result of acute methamphetamine intoxication and physical struggle, with idiopathic cardiomyopathy as a contributing condition.”

Jerala Grayson, as personal representative for Daniels’ estate, sued several Defendants, alleging denial of Grayson’s right to medical care and due process, in violation of the Arkansas and federal constitutions. The district court granted Defendants qualified immunity, but the case proceeded to trial against two defendants. The Jury returned a verdict in favor of Defendants.

The Eighth Circuit rejected Grayson’s challenge to the district court’s exclusion of evidence regarding Arkansas state jail standards. It found that the lower court did not abuse its discretion, because although jail standards are relevant in some cases, they do not represent minimum constitutional standards. Johnson v. Busby, 953 F2d 349, 351 (8th Cir 1991)(per curiam).

With respect to Grayson’s claim that the jury was improperly instructed on the standard of care under the Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1993, the Court declined “to extend the deliberate indifference standard to all claims brought by pre-trial detainees.” Rather, the Court certified a question to the Arkansas Supreme Court, asking: “Does the conscious indifference standard announced in Shepherd v. Washington County, 962 SW2d 779 (Ark. 1998), afford greater protection to pre-trial detainees than the federal deliberate indifference standard?” See: Grayson v. Ross, 454 F.3d 802 (8th Cir. 2006).

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Related legal case

Grayson v. Ross