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West Virginia City Settles Suit over Jail Prisoner’s Death for $460,000

West Virginia City Settles Suit over Jail Prisoner’s Death for $460,000

by Matt Clarke

On June 10, 2013, following a $460,000 settlement, a West Virginia federal court dismissed a lawsuit filed by the estate of a prisoner who died at the Bluefield City Jail.

According to the complaint in the civil rights suit, Stephen Z. Yokosuk, 21, passed out in his car in the parking lot of a McDonald’s restaurant around 4:00 p.m. on November 18, 2010. More than four hours later, an employee of the restaurant waived down a Bluefield Police Department patrol car to check on Yokosuk. The officers arrested him for public intoxication and booked him into the city jail; during that process, they had difficulty keeping him awake. They did not seek a medical evaluation.

Other prisoners at the jail tried to awaken Yokosuk, but were unable to do so. No police officers checked on him during the night. The next morning, the prisoners told officers that although he was still breathing, Yokosuk had not moved at all overnight. The police responded that he was just a “drunk sleeping it off.” About two hours after breakfast was served, Yokosuk was found dead in his cell.

An autopsy determined he had died due to blood clots which formed in his legs and traveled to his lungs; the clots were “caused by him being in a state where he did not move for several hours.” No alcohol was found in his system.

Yokosuk’s grandmother, Wanda L. Yokosuk, acting as the administrix of his estate, and with the assistance of attorneys J. Michael Ransom and Charles R. “Rusty” Webb, filed a civil rights action against the City of Bluefield in federal district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of Yokosuk’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The suit claimed that the city had failed to properly train its patrol officers and the police department had policies or customs that were deliberately indifferent to citizens’ constitutional rights, and that Yokosuk had been unreasonably seized.

The parties agreed to settle the case on April 19, 2013, and the suit was dismissed following the settlement. The $460,000 settlement agreement included $184,000 in attorney fees and $22,636.53 in legal costs; the remaining amount was paid to Yokosuk’s estate. See: Yokosuk v. City of Bluefield, U.S.D.C. (S.D. WV), Case No. 1:12-cv-00229.

Apparently, however, Yokosuk’s death and the substantial settlement did not motivate officers at the jail to take prisoners’ medical needs more seriously. The FBI is investigating the recent death of another Bluefield City Jail prisoner, Connie Hambrick, 41, who died on June 17, 2015. She had been booked into the facility on June 4, and complained about a “really bad headache.” Hambrick was taken to a local medical center where staff found she had experienced a stroke; she was then transported to a hospital in Charleston. She died less than two weeks later. According to a news report, the jail is also conducting an internal investigation.


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Related legal case

Yokosuk v. City of Bluefield