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$1.75 Million Settlement in Michigan Detainee’s Heroin Withdrawal Death

$1.75 Million Settlement in Michigan Detainee’s Heroin Withdrawal Death

by David M. Reutter

A $1.75 million settlement was reached in a lawsuit brought by the estate of a pre-trial detainee who died as a result of heroin withdrawal after being denied medical care.

In the days leading up to and during her October 30, 2011 arrest on outstanding warrants, Andrea Armstead, 21, was detoxing from heroin use. She advised officials at Michigan’s Kalamazoo County Jail about her condition and requested help.

The lawsuit alleged that Armstead was exhibiting severe withdrawal symptoms that included vomiting, severe abdominal cramps, dehydration, profuse sweating, lethargy and weakness. She made several written and verbal requests for medical assistance. Jail guards Andy Schulling, Mark Beaumont and M. Gary ignored her requests and failed to report them.

The complaint further alleged that nurses Ron Tharge, Conrad Bitely and Michael Bierman did not record Armstead’s symptoms or take her vital signs. They also failed to follow jail policy to determine if she was a candidate for treatment with Clonidine for moderate to severe withdrawal syndrome; instead, she was given Pepto Bismol. The lawsuit also claimed the county had failed to adequately train its jail staff and, in fact, trained them to ignore detainees’ medical complaints.

Armstead collapsed in her cell on November 2, 2011 and went into cardiac arrest; her family agreed to withdraw life support six days later. They then filed suit, resulting in the $1.75 million settlement. Armstead’s estate was represented by attorneys Jeffrey A. Danzig, Geoffrey N. Fieger and Daniel J. Harris, who received just over one-third of the settlement. Kalamazoo County had to pay only $150,000, which was the deductible on its insurance policy. See: Keller v. County of Kalamazoo, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Mich.), Case No. 1:12-cv-00843-PLM.


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Related legal case

Keller v. County of Kalamazoo