Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

$750,000 Settlement After Opioid Withdrawal Death in Kentucky Jail

by David M. Reutter

Opioid addiction has reached epidemic proportions. Handling withdrawal from those drugs is something that many jails are unprepared to handle. Kentucky’s Mason County Detention Center (MCDC) was so unprepared that it allowed Jenny Fulton, 27, to deteriorate and die over a four day period. In April 2017, MCDC agreed to pay $750,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by Fulton’s estate.

Fulton landed in MCDC after violating her parole in a heroin conviction. She was clean for two years, but she suffered from Crohn’s disease, which resulted in surgery to remove her gallbladder. That resulted in the use of opioids for pain, and she returned to using heroin.

A positive drug test caused the parole violation when she was booked into MCDC on October 28, 2014. Fulton informed guards of her Crohn’s disease and that in 2009 she had “experienced DT’s or other serious withdrawals from drugs,” namely OxyContin. Shortly after her incarceration, Fulton “began severe drug withdrawal which was complicated and worsened by her Crohn’s disease,” the federal civil rights complaint stated.

On the evening of October 28, Fulton “started getting sick through the night and ... vomited several times.” The next morning she told guards and nurse Denese Fulton that “she needs to go to the hospital because she has Crohn’s [sic] disease and is dehydrated. Fulton’s condition prevented her from eating, and guards had to use a wheelchair to move her from her cell. She “vomited several times throughout the day.”

By October 30, Fulton was unable to eat or drink without vomiting, and to make it easier to clean up the mess, “she was moved to a cell that had a drain in the floor.” In the early morning hours of October 31, a guard called Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner Cynthia Schaefer regarding Fulton’s deteriorating condition. About three hours later, Schaefer examined Fulton and determined her to be “in opiate detox,” but decided not to send her to a hospital which would cost the local government money.

Instead, two guards took Fulton to a shower to clean the vomit and diarrhea off of her. She was unable to eat, and they put her in diapers. At 7:00 p.m., a guard saw Fulton “lying on her back moaning and seemed to be in pain.” Guards instructed a female detainee to monitor Fulton while they went to see that “staff duties were performed.”

That detainee said Fulton “was grey-looking…there was stuff coming out of her mouth and was really thick mucus.” According to a deposition, a jail sergeant said to a deputy, “They’re going to fool around and let her lay there and die.”

At 9:10 p.m. on October 31, that is exactly what happened. In the aftermath, blame was cast all over. “While everyone pointed fingers at one another, the reality is that people saw and watched what she was going through, could have called 911 and gotten her help, but didn’t,” said the estate’s attorney, Jim Thomerson of Lexington. “And what happened to Jenny was that nobody acted on what they saw and knew was happening--her slowly moving toward death over a number of days."

Opioid addiction and withdrawal are things that government officials must prepare to handle. “It is a real problem, just one of the many ways that this opioid epidemic is taxing all of our systems, whether it is the jail system, the court system, the foster care system,” said Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky office of Drug Control Policy. “Constant medical monitoring is important because ... of the dehydration that can occur and of the serious medical events that can come from withdrawal.”

See: Fulton v. Mason County, Kentucky, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Ken.), Case No. 2:15-cv-00031-WOB-JGW.

Additional source:

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Fulton v. Mason County, Kentucky