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$285,000 Settlement in Wrongful Death Suit Against Ohio Jail

On December 13, 2016, officials in Butler County, Ohio agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by the daughter of a woman who died in the county’s jail just over four years earlier. Butler County will pay $285,000 in damages and attorney fees, lawyers for the sheriff’s office announced.

The prisoner who died was 52-year-old Ruby Farley. She was jailed on a contempt of court charge in March 2012, and apparently suffered from opiate withdrawal. According to the federal complaint filed by her daughter, Holly Candace McConnell, Farley threw up her lunch and then started “moaning and screaming for help,” but guards did nothing. Farley’s head hit the floor at one point, the complaint alleged, but the guard just stood there and watched. Another guard failed to call 911 for assistance after she checked Farley and found she was not breathing and had no pulse. Farley was eventually found dead in her cell.

McConnell filed suit against Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones, jail medical director Dr. Anthony Abdullah, two guards and the county, alleging the jail lacked proper training and policies for dealing with drug-addicted prisoners.

The defendants “knew that failure to provide appropriate medical care to inmates suffering from drug and alcohol withdrawal put such prisoners at substantial risk of serious harm or death,” wrote Jennifer Branch, one of McConnell’s attorneys. The suit raised civil rights violations, negligence, medical malpractice and wrongful death claims, and sought unspecified damages.

At one point in the case, a magistrate judge recommended dismissal of the negligence and malpractice claims against Sheriff Jones, as well as the wrongful death claims against him in his official capacity. The magistrate found, and the district court judge later agreed, that those claims could not proceed against Jones because he was not a doctor. The rest of the claims were allowed to go forward, however, leading to settlement discussions and the eventual $285,000 settlement.

The parties were unable to agree on changes to Butler County’s jail policies or training to ensure that similar tragic incidents do not occur again; the monetary settlement was reportedly split between the county and its insurance carrier. McConnell was represented by the law firms of Gerhardstein & Branch, and Waite, Schneider, Bayless & Chesley Co. See: McConnell v. Butler County, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Ohio), Case No. 1:13-cv-00210-MRB. 

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