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$750,000 Settlement for Family of Man Who Died in Illinois Jail

by David M. Reutter

Illinois’ Whiteside County Jail (WCJ) agreed to pay $750,000 to settle a civil rights action alleging jail officials failed to treat Walter E. Divers, Jr. for severe alcohol withdrawal, resulting in his death.

Divers, 28, was arrested for failing to pay fines or appear in court following a state criminal conviction. When he was booked into WCJ on April 15, 2016, jail staff observed that he was “clearly intoxicated.” Divers informed staff he was an alcoholic who drank daily, and that he had consumed a substantial amount of alcohol prior to his arrest. An investigation by the Illinois State Police found documents that stated on the day of his arrest, Divers had consumed a liter of vodka between 8 a.m. and noon; he also had a history of seizures.

Due to his state of intoxication, Divers was placed in solitary confinement. Later that evening or early the next morning, he began sweating and his blood pressure became elevated, the complaint alleged. He developed a fast or rapid heartbeat and experienced shaking and tremors, followed by nausea and vomiting.

The complaint argued jail staff failed to adequately monitor Divers’ condition for alcohol withdrawal or provide medical treatment. About 23 hours after his arrest, he was found unresponsive and not breathing in his cell. Efforts to revive him failed and Divers was pronounced dead at a local hospital. An autopsy attributed his death “to a cardiac arrhythmia caused by fatty liver change. Chronic alcoholism is a contributing factor.”

Represented by the Sterling, Illinois law firm of Mertes & Mertes, Divers’ estate filed suit in April 2017 against Whiteside County, the sheriff and the jail’s administrator. The parties reached a settlement on October 27, 2017.

After paying attorney fees and estate administration and funeral costs, the estate was left with $446,000. Those funds will be placed in trust for Divers’ eight-year-old daughter. See: Metzler v. Whiteside County, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 3:17-cv-50114. 


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Related legal case

Metzler v. Whiteside County