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Jail Officials Compelled to Provide Medical Reports in Wrongful Death Lawsuit

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia has ordered the defendant in a lawsuit stemming from the beating death of a prisoner to provide county morbidity and mortality reports to the plaintiff -- over the objections of the county defendant.

In 2004, 71-year-old Hoyt Jenkins was a prisoner at the DeKalb County Jail in Georgia. Jenkins, a frail 140-lb. man, had a mental illness which manifested itself in verbal outbursts which often included racial epithets.

On March 3, 2004, a county judge ordered Jenkins transferred to a hospital in Atlanta because the county jail was "not equipped" to give Jenkins the psychiatric care he needed. However, three months later the sheriff still had not complied with the court order and Jenkins remained in the county jail's general population.

On July 6, 2004, jail officials moved Jenkins from cell 605 to 604, in with a large black man named Jason Smith. According to the suit, this move was made to "teach Jenkins a lesson" and in retaliation for his repeated racial outbursts.

The next night, Jenkins was discovered dead in his cell. He was found lying on his back with twelve broken ribs. According to the medical report, Jenkins' injuries were consistent with someone repeatedly jumping off the top bunk and landing on Jenkins' body.

Two years later Gregory Jenkins, acting for himself and as administrator of his brother's estate, filed suit in federal court bringing federal civil rights and state tort claims. During discovery, Plaintiff deposed Dr. William Brickhouse, the jail's mental health director. During the deposition, Dr. Brickhouse disclosed that he participated in a post-death investigation and prepared a "Mortality and Morbidity" report relating to Jenkins' death. However, on advice of defense counsel, Dr. Brickhouse refused to answer any questions about the contents of the report and a subpoena for a copy of it was not complied with. Plaintiff then asked the court to intervene and compel the county to comply with the subpoena.

In granting the Plaintiff's motion, the court found that the information sought was "nonmedical," but may shed light on jail customs and policies.

The court then focused on the medical "peer-review privilege" claimed by the defendants. Noting that every state has some form of a peer review statute, "it appears that no two statutes are alike." The court then concluded that such a privilege has never been recognized in federal court.

The court order Dr. Brickhouse to comply with Plaintiff's discovery request and subpoena and to produce "all relevant documents as outlined" in that request. See: Jenkins v. DeKalb County, Georgia, 242 F.R.D. 652 (U.S.D.C. N.D. GA, 2007).

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Related legal case

Jenkins v. DeKalb County, Georgia