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Texas County Settles Suit Over Jail Prisoner’s Death for $250,000

by Matt Clarke

In April 2017, the estate and heirs of woman who died after she was allegedly denied medical care at the Tom Green County jail in San Angelo, Texas received $250,000 to settle a lawsuit against the county, sheriff, three jailers and two jail nurses.

When Jerry Ann McDaniel, 61, was admitted to the county jail in January 2014 to serve a 28-day sentence for possession of a controlled substance, she had serious medical needs. The jail admission form noted she had asthma, hepatitis C, cirrhosis, and swollen and painful joints. She also suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, hypothyroidism, diabetes and drug addiction.

Two weeks later, McDaniel fell while “cleaning the shower,” fracturing her wrist. She reported the injury and was referred to jail nurse Robin. Robin ignored McDaniel’s complaints about pain in her wrist, refused to diagnose or treat her and failed to even log the request for medical attention. McDaniel was sent back to her cell with an over-the-counter pain reliever.

She fell again two days later, striking her head. Jail nurse Hernandez examined her but failed to provide medical care or enter the request for treatment into the medical log.

McDaniel submitted a sick-call request the next day to see a doctor, reporting stomach pain and vomiting, and saying she had fallen several times. The sick-call request was ignored by jail medical staff.

Four days later, jailers were distributing prescription medications and noticed that McDaniel was extremely weak, unable to sit up and could not hold a pen to sign the form indicating she had received her medicine. The jailers placed the pills in McDaniel’s mouth and poured water down her throat so she could swallow them. They did not attempt to summon medical assistance.

After several hours, a jailer performing a cell check noted that McDaniel was “sitting on her mattress rocking back and forth.” Pursuant to jail practice, the jailer performed a brief medical evaluation, checking McDaniel’s temperature, blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Alarmed by extremely low blood pressure and blood sugar, the jailer summoned an ambulance and McDaniel was transported to a hospital.

Once there, she was placed in the Intensive Care Unit after being diagnosed with sepsis, pneumonia, acute respiratory distress, liver failure and congestive heart failure. To avoid hospitalization costs, the jail immediately discharged McDaniel even though she had several days left on her sentence. She died in the hospital about a week later, on February 16, 2014.

Aided by Austin attorneys Jeff Edwards and Scott Medlock, McDaniel’s husband, son and estate filed a wrongful death suit that claimed the denial of adequate medical care at the jail violated McDaniel’s Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The case was removed to federal court, and the defendants settled the suit on April 11, 2017 for $250,000, inclusive of attorney fees and costs. The settlement was paid through the county’s insurer, Trident Insurance Services.

Sadly, McDaniel could have avoided being jailed and may have survived if she had been able to afford a $302 fine in lieu of jail time. See: McDaniel v. Tom Green County, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Tex.), Case No. 6:16-cv-00002-C.

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Related legal case

McDaniel v. Tom Green County