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$375,000-plus Settlement in Wrongful Death Suit Against Jail

by R. Bailey

 A family’s wrongful death lawsuit filed against a Nisqually tribal jail operated by a sovereign Indian tribe was settled for $375,000, plus an undisclosed amount paid by the tribe.

Andrew Wrestling, 19, was arrested by police officers from the City of Yelm, Washington, for being a minor in possession of alcohol and for spitting on a customer at a gas station customer.

Within 24 hours of his arrival at the Nisqually Corrections Center, Wrestling died from a cardiac dysrhythmia, “a ‘familiar, readily recognized, and easily treatable’ heart condition,” wrote University of Washington medical professor Richard Cummings in a report for the lawyers.

“If it were not for unreasonable neglect of the staff of the Nisqually Corrections Center, Andrew Wrestling would be alive today and would enjoy a normal life span,” Cummings wrote.

Another expert also cited a failure by jail staff, according to The Seattle Times. “'I have rarely, if ever, seen such a blatant violation of basic corrections standards of care, both on an individual and institutional level,’ wrote Arthur Wallenstein, director and jail administrator for King County’s Department of Adult Detention from 1990 to 1999 during a career of more than 40 years as a corrections administrator.”

Wrestling’s estate was represented by his mother, Carmen Rowe. As she was preparing to file suit in federal court, the City of Helm and the Nisqually Indian Tribe agreed to an out-of-court settlement. The city agreed to pay $375,000 for all damages, including attorney fees. No details were available on the terms of the settlement with the tribe because they are a sovereign nation not subject to public record or freedom of information laws. It also enjoys immunity from suits in federal court.

Of related interest, former Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna observed that cities and counties are not authorized under state law to “contract with an Indian tribes or Indian reservations.”

The Indian tribes or Indian reservations also are not authorized under Washington law to provide jail services. Contracts for jail services are limited to those between cities and counties under state law.

Thus, McKenna concluded in his opinion memo that the contract between the City of Yelm and the Nisqually Indian Reservation was unauthorized under law.

Source: The Seattle Times

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