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$42,200 Federal Jury Award in Suit Over California Jail Prisoner's Death

On August 5, 1999, a California federal jury awarded $52,200 to the family of a prisoner who died while suffering from untreated drug withdrawal in the Santa Barbara County jail.

When Drew Allen Walsh, 32, was booked into the jail, he was already suffering from drug withdrawal. The detectives who arrested him and jail personnel were aware of his condition. Nonetheless, he was not given a medical examination and not treated for withdrawal. Instead, he was assigned to an upper bunk 67 inches above the cement jail floor, in violation of jail policy.

Jail medical personnel ignored guards' repeated requests for medical attention for Walsh. Walsh fell off the bunk, struck his head and died.

Walsh's mother and two minor children filed a federal civil rights action against the county, detectives, jail officials and jail medical personnel. The county reported the death as being caused by acute mixed drug toxicity and small vessel coronary artery disease despite heroin and the anti-psychotic medication Mellaril only being present in his blood in less-than-toxic levels. Plaintiffs alleged Walsh's death was caused by diffuse axonal brain injury caused by the fall while defendants claimed it was caused by a heart attack brought on by drug toxicity.

Plaintiffs were represented by attorneys Johnnie Cochran and Eric G. Ferrer from Los Angeles, and Jill M.O'Gorman and Craig Price from Santa Barbara. The trial took three weeks and two days. The jury deliberated for four days before returning an unanimous verdict awarding $200 in actual damages and $42,000 in punitive damages against the jail's shift commander and two nurses. The plaintiffs had sought $675,000 and had rejected a settlement offer of $125,000. Plaintiffs filed a motion for attorney fees.

See: Walsh v. County of Santa Barbara, 1999 WL 1212783 (C.D. Cal.)

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Related legal case

Walsh v. County of Santa Barbara