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$150,000 Settlement for Opioid Withdrawal Death in Indiana County Jail

by Anthony W. Accurso

The Floyd County, Indiana, jail reached a settlement in July in the death of a prisoner related to opioid withdrawal.

Hanna Robb, 23, was booked into the Floyd County Jail on March 25, 2016, for failure to appear for a misdemeanor theft charge. At her court date on March 30, she was sentenced to serve nine days and be released on April 9. Hanna died later that night after returning from court.

Mark Robb, Hanna’s father and the administrator of her estate, filed a civil suit in January 2017 against the Floyd County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Frank Loop, and eight other jail staff, including the jail’s medical officer and two nurses.

The complaint outlined a story all too familiar to criminal justice reform advocates familiar with the slow-moving train wreck that is the interaction between the opioid epidemic and this country’s patchwork system of largely unregulated county jails.

Floyd County was, at least on paper, capable of handling prisoners like Hanna who are detoxing from opioids. It had protocols in place for medical observation and prescription medicines to treat acute symptoms, such as seizures, once the staff is notified of a prisoner’s drug dependency. Hanna’s situation is all the more tragic for the staff’s failure to abide by these protocols.

During Hanna’s intake screening, she notified staff that she was dependent on Suboxone, which was prescribed to her through her treatment provider. Further, Hanna had “obvious IV track marks on both of her upper arms.” While her dependence was properly noted in her files, no record exists as to whether she was brought to the attention of the medical staff or was officially placed under medical observation.

She was placed in cell “DX-2,” which is typically reserved for prisoners who have been approved for medical observation, including prisoners suffering withdrawal symptoms.

According to the complaint, “Hanna was vomiting, soiling herself, pale, fatigued, sweating, had sweats and cold chills, and at times could barely stand up. She also showed signs of dehydration, and she had severe migraines and a low pulse rate.” After soiling herself, she was denied access to a change of clothing for three days. “On March 29th, she did not have pants.”

The complaint alleges that jail staff neglected Hanna’s obvious suffering and simply allowed her to die. Sheriff Loop commented to the News and Tribune on May 9, 2016 that “roughly nine out of ten inmates booked into the jail are on drugs and face withdrawal symptoms.” Court documents show the jail’s insurance company agreed to settle the complaint for $150,000.

It remains to be seen how long Americans will tolerate such conditions in county jails. Under no reasonable interpretation of “justice” should Hanna’s nine-day sentence for misdemeanor theft have been allowed to become a death sentence. See: Robb v. Loop, USDC, SD IN, Case No. 4:17-CV-2 RLY. 


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Related legal case

Robb v. Loop