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New York County to Pay $440,000 Settlement in Wrongful Jail Death Suit

by Kevin Bliss

Onondaga County, New York agreed to a $440,000 settlement in a wrongful death claim filed by attorney Richard Priest on behalf of Rebeka Kwiatkowski after her daughter, Chanel Lakatocz, died at the Onondaga County Justice Center (OCJC) from opioid and alcohol withdrawal.

Lakatocz was arrested on August 17, 2014 with three co-defendants for a series of burglaries committed in Manlius and Lysander, New York. The police said she was part of a roving band of “gypsies” responsible for burglaries in Atlantic City, Chicago, Philadelphia and other communities, which netted them over a half-million dollars.

The morning after Lakatocz’s arrest and arraignments, she was transported to OCJC pending trial. Police officers told the admissions desk that she had made comments about harming herself.

Because her booking did not occur until six hours later, this information did not get relayed. OCJC policy requires detainees who may harm themselves to be placed in special housing with 15-minute security checks. Lakatocz was ultimately put in the jail’s open population where only 30-minute security checks are required.

During the intake process, Lakatocz admitted she was experiencing withdrawal. She said she had a daily usage of 20 oxycodone pills, 20 bags of heroin and as much as a half-bottle of vodka.

OCJC’s private medical contractor, Correct Care Solutions (CCS, now known as Wellpath), conducted a Comprehensive Opiate Withdrawal Screen (COWS). Lakatocz scored 14 on the screening, which indicated moderate opioid withdrawal.

She also scored 10 on the Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment (CIWA), indicating moderate alcohol withdrawal. She was prescribed 50 mg of Librium four times a day, with a COWS and CIWA prepared every eight hours thereafter.

Lakatocz received two doses during the eight hours it took to process her before she was assigned to a cell on August 18, 2014 at 5:30 p.m.

A final report, prepared after an investigation into her death, stated that her medical records were not transferred to the main clinic once she was booked. When another nurse noticed her arrival, she conducted her own COWS and CIWA screenings, noting a score of 7 and 3, respectively. Based on that assessment, she determined Lakatocz to be stable and not in need of medication.

Video recordings in the jail showed that security checks were not done every half-hour as mandated by OCJC policy. They also showed the nurse bypassing Lakatocz’s cell at the 9 a.m. medication distribution. When lunch was delivered at 10:30 a.m., Lakatocz was found unresponsive. She was transported to SUNY Upstate Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead on August 19, 2014 due to complications from opiate and alcohol withdrawal.

The New York Commission of Correction conducted an investigation and found that OCJC was not performing timely security checks and the Suicide Prevention Screening was not being administered immediately upon a detainee’s admission.

The Commission also found that initial screening records were not being transmitted to the jail’s main clinic upon a detainee’s cell assignment, but that deficiency had already been corrected with the addition of computer systems that allowed immediate access to the records.

Lastly, the Commission recommended that CCS/Wellpath review its staff and procedures to identify any deficiencies in training and processing, and to correct them.

“Had adequate withdrawal management and supervision been provided, her [Lakatocz’s] death may have been prevented,” the Commission concluded in its final report. See: Kwiatkowski v. Onondaga County, New York State Supreme Court, Index No. 2015EF4455. 


Additional sources: New York State Commission of Correction Final Report,

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Related legal case

Kwiatkowski v. Onondaga County