Oregon officials have paid $5 million to settle claims related to a jail prisoner who died hours after being attacked and denied emergency medical treatment.
Jed Hawk Myers, 34, was being held at the Yamhill County jail in McMinnville, Oregon on a probation violation. On May 27, 2015, guards found Myers after two other prisoners had severely beaten him. He appeared disoriented, had what looked like a dislocated shoulder and complained of pain in his side.
Guards moved Myers from the jail’s general population to a medical cell, where a medical technician conducted a cursory examination at about 7:30 p.m. according to security video and investigative reports. A guard pointed out a contusion on the right side of Myers’ head, and the technician noted that he was sweating profusely and had an elevated heart rate. The technician admitted to investigators, however, that he left after several unsuccessful attempts to obtain a blood pressure reading.
Rather than having a doctor evaluate Myers, the technician recommended placing him on 30-minute medical watch. That entailed monitoring security video footage of Myers in his cell and hourly cell-front monitoring by guards, according to an investigation.
An external review by two jail commanders from other counties found that Yamhill County jailers over-relied on video surveillance, which “diminishes personal checks of inmates and can create a false sense of security.” The review also recommended that guards notify an on-call doctor about medical emergencies at the jail.
Myers writhed in pain and clutched his side for more than five hours. After he stood to urinate just before 9 p.m., guards monitoring the surveillance video observed red liquid in the cell toilet. A sergeant speculated, however, that it was simply fruit juice or something else available from the jail commissary, investigators found.
Myers walked to his cell door and pressed the intercom button for help nineteen times but nobody responded, according to jail records. One guard told investigators that staff often silenced cell intercoms when a prisoner was considered too “needy.” It is unclear whether Myers’ intercom had been silenced.
“I didn’t understand why they didn’t take him to the hospital,” prisoner Thomas O’Donnell told investigators. O’Donnell said he pushed his own intercom when he heard Myers screaming “Help me, help me!”
At 12:52 a.m., guards finally went to the cell when they noticed Myers slumped against the wall, then called emergency medics when they could not find a pulse. He was pronounced dead at 1:15 a.m. on May 28, 2015 – the day he was supposed to be released.
An autopsy revealed that Myers sustained lacerations to his left kidney with severe internal bleeding, a skull contusion and brain injury, and rib and clavicle fractures. The medical examiner found the cause of death to be blunt force abdominal trauma. The prisoners who attacked Myers – Joshua Mulbreght, 27, and Zachary Chronister, 22 – were convicted and sentenced to prison for causing his death.
On May 8, 2017, attorney Matthew D. Kaplan filed a federal civil rights suit on behalf of Myers’ estate and family, seeking at least $12 million and unspecified punitive damages. The suit alleged that Yamhill County and guards and medical staff at the jail denied Myers basic medical care that negligently caused his death. Jail staff ignored “all the obvious and horrific symptoms that were plainly visible on the monitor over five hours,” Kaplan wrote.
The county paid Myers’ family $5 million to settle the case two months later. “I think the money says they know this was wrong,” said Kaplan. “The family is satisfied.”
The county now contracts with Correct Care Solutions, a private company with its own dubious track record, to provide 24-hour medical treatment at the jail. New policies mandate that all medical decisions will be made by Correct Care rather than guards. Additionally, whenever a prisoner is moved from a high-security risk classification to a lower one, jail staff must document the reason in writing.
The Yamhill County Sheriff’s Office is also considering whether to include additional staff training by a physician on concussions and detox-recognition.
“Obviously it’s two years too late for Mr. Myers, but to their credit, at least they’ve recognized the problem and hopefully have come up with a better solution,” Kaplan stated. “I’m pleased with the changes.”
County officials referred all questions about the settlement to their outside counsel, Mark Williamson and Robert Wagner. Both declined to comment.
See: Beagle v. Yamhill County, U.S.D.C. (D. Or.), Case No. 3:17-cv-00711-AA.
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Related legal case
Beagle v. Yamhill County
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (D. Or.), Case No. 3:17-cv-00711-AA|