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New Hampshire: $450,000 Settlement in Suit Over Prisoner’s Opiate Detoxification Death

On August 9, 2011, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire settled a lawsuit filed by the parents of a jail prisoner who died due to dehydration while undergoing unsupervised opiate detoxification.

Kevin McEvoy, 24, was arrested in August 2008 on two misdemeanor shoplifting charges for stealing video games; unable to post $3,000 bail, he was incarcerated at the Valley Street jail in Manchester. McEvoy was a heroin addict and immediately began to show signs of opiate detoxification. One of the signs was repeated vomiting.

Persistent vomiting can result in dehydration and kidney failure, which can be fatal. That is what happened to McEvoy, who lost 24 pounds during the five days he was held at the jail, writhing and moaning on his bunk much of the time.

The state medical examiner performed an autopsy and concluded that McEvoy’s death was the accidental result of “severe dehydration and acute renal failure due to protracted vomiting caused by heroin withdrawal.”

McEvoy’s parents, Richard and Shelagh, filed a civil rights suit in federal court claiming their son had been denied medical care. Court documents alleged that guards had ignored other prisoners’ repeated attempts to get medical help for McEvoy, and that a nurse “joked” that he was “faking an illness.” On August 25, 2008, the last day of his life, two guards reportedly dragged and carried McEvoy from his cell to another cell because he was unable to walk by himself. Nonetheless, they refused to get him medical attention.

Court pleadings also alleged that “the Hillsborough Department of Corrections did not have a written policy or protocol on opiate detoxification” at the time of McEvoy’s death.
By contrast, they did have a written policy on alcohol detoxification that “included a ‘Detox Flow Sheet’ to be completed by medical personnel, which required the monitoring and recording of, among other things, the inmate’s blood pressure, whether the inmate was vomiting and whether the inmate was weak.” Prisoners who were detoxifying from alcohol were also monitored by staff every fifteen minutes, with staff recording the prisoner’s activities on a watch sheet and providing the watch sheet to medical staff.

Hillsborough County agreed to settle the suit without admitting fault. The attorney who represented McEvoy’s parents, Joseph F. McDowell III, said he could not reveal the amount of the settlement but that his clients, who sued in the name of McEvoy’s estate, were pleased.

“I’m glad it’s over, but it doesn’t bring Kevin back,” said his mother. “Nothing’s going to bring him back, but we just felt that he was owed. The way he went out, there were so many questions.”

PLN filed a public records request and obtained a copy of the settlement agreement in January 2013, which revealed that county officials had paid $450,000 to McEvoy’s estate to settle the lawsuit. Hillsborough County has since adopted a written protocol for prisoners experiencing opiate withdrawal. See: McEvoy v. Hillsborough County, U.S.D.C. (D. NH), Case No. 1:09-cv-00431-SM.

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Related legal case

McEvoy v. Hillsborough County