$1.15 Million for Florida Pretrial Detainee’s Death
by David M. Reutter
A Florida federal jury awarded $975,000 to the estate of a woman who was denied medical and mental health treatment while held at the Pinellas County Jail (PCJ), and the parties later settled the case for $1.15 million.
Jennifer DeGraw, 50, showed up at her husband’s job site in 2009, barefoot and in a state of mania, declaring that her car had been stolen. In reality, she had failed to take medication to treat her bipolar disorder.
Having not seen his wife of two years in a manic state before, Michael DeGraw contacted law enforcement to help her obtain medical care. Fearing she was a potential threat to herself and others, Michael asked deputies from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office to take Jennifer to a facility for evaluation and treatment under the Baker Act, Florida’s involuntary commitment statute.
The deputies, Brain J. Diebold and Nicholas J. Baez, instead subdued Jennifer with a Taser and booked her into PCJ on a charge of battery on a law enforcement officer after she kicked one of them. They advised the booking officer that Jennifer was a “Baker Act” and she was placed in close medical observation.
Upon her March 16, 2009 booking into the jail it was “abundantly clear to all involved in her custody and care that she was unable to assist either verbally or physically in her medical or personal care.” The booking video indicated Jennifer was “lacking control of her mental faculties.”
For the duration of her eight-day stay at PCJ, the “medical/nursing staff negligently failed to take appropriate steps to assure that Jennifer DeGraw took her medications or consumed adequate food or drink, or respond to her inability to do so,” the complaint filed by her husband stated.
The indifference to her mental health condition went so far as to include the falsification of records. Nurse Aileen Mallari and Deputy Patricia Shoberg admitted they did not make required checks on Jennifer and falsified records stating they had observed her.
Jennifer was found unresponsive at 6:30 a.m. on March 24, 2009, as she lay on the floor of her cell. She was pronounced dead upon arrival at a local hospital; a medical examiner found she had died of a heart attack due to an electrolyte imbalance after refusing food and medication. Former jail psychiatrist Richard Miller testified that Jennifer needed treatment which jail staff failed to provide.
Represented by attorneys from the Morgan & Morgan law firm, the Brannock & Humphries law firm and attorney Craig A. Laporte, Jennifer’s estate sued in state and federal court. The case went to trial, and the federal jury’s February 14, 2014 verdict awarded the estate $975,000 in compensatory damages after finding jail officials liable.
Following the verdict, the parties reached a $1.15 million settlement in July 2014 that included damages and attorney fees, and resolved both the federal and state court claims. See: DeGraw v. Gualtieri, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Fla.), Case No. 8:11-cv-00720-EAK-MAP.
Additional sources: St. Petersburg Times, www.tampabay.com
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Related legal case
DeGraw v. Gualtieri
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (M.D. Fla.), Case No. 8:11-cv-00720-EAK-MAP|