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$420,000 Settlement in Lawsuit Over Opioid Withdrawal Death in Georgia Jail

In January 2015, Amanda Helms allegedly tried to purchase hydrocodone from Cynthia Mixon, using money provided by her uncle, Herman Bill Hendricks, 57. He was arrested, along with his 32-year-old niece. Police searched Mixon’s home, finding firearms and an abundance of trash, but they did not find her. Three days later, the 51-year-old turned herself in to the Wilkinson County jail to face drug charges.

Mixon had valid prescriptions for Oxycodone, Prozac, Wellbutrin, Losartan, and Tegretol. She had been taking the Oxycodone for back pain and fibromyalgia.

Helms began suffering from opioid withdrawal soon after she arrived at the jail three days before Mixon. Jailers ignored her pleas for medical treatment and told her she needed to “dry out.”

“At no point during those nightmarish two and a half days was Ms. Mixon ever taken to see a doctor or a nurse despite fellow inmates telling every jailer working at the time that Ms. Mixon was ‘detoxing’ and needed medical attention,” said her complaint. “Instead, the jail followed the policy and practice articulated by Jail Administrator Thomas ‘Buster’ King when speaking with the parent of another inmate: ‘We’re not running a rehab center here’.”

In response to a plea for medical attention for his daughter, Helms’ father was told by King, “We’re gonna dry these people out.”

Meanwhile, a friend of Mixon’s delivered her prescription medications—which included anti-seizure and high blood pressure medications—to the jail the day after she turned herself in. He asked King to ensure she got them. Despite a jail policy requiring King to contact the jail’s contract doctor to have the medication approved, he never did so.

Mixon suffered from obvious symptoms of opioid withdrawal soon after arriving at the jail. These included uncontrollable vomiting, diarrhea, fever, chest pains, loss of appetite and weakness. She and the other prisoners in her cellblock repeatedly tried to get jail staff to summon medical assistance for Mixon to no avail. Jail records—including her intake forms—did not note Mixon’s medical issues until the second day after she arrived at the jail. That notation, made on the evening of January 29, 2015, on the jail’s roster merely said, “Vomiting+ Fever Needs Doc Appt.”

By 7 the next morning, Mixon was having seizures and the women in her cellblock were screaming and banging on the door as she turned blue and bled from her mouth. Jailer arrived, but instead of performing first aid, they rolled her onto her side, called out her name, and patted her hand. When, after some time, she did not respond, they finally asked the dispatcher to call for an ambulance. It arrived too late, and Mixon was pronounced dead on arrival at a Milledgeville hospital.

After Mixon died, Helms was rushed to the jail’s physician. He scolded the jailers for depriving prisoners of their medications without first consulting him. Helms received medical treatment and survived.

In 2016, Atlanta attorneys Mark Begnaud and Nathanael A. Horsley of Horsley Begnaud, LLC helped Mixon’s son file a federal civil rights lawsuit against the county, its sheriff, and jail personnel alleging violations of Mixon’s constitutional rights and state torts.

In May 2019, a federal judge said King’s actions could be interpreted by a jury as “more than grossly negligent.” The two sides agreed to a settlement in December 2019 and the figure of $420,000 was soon negotiated.

“Through the lawsuit, [Mixon’s family members] were able to get some answers about what happened in the jail, and they feel that they’ve gotten some measure of justice,” said Begnaud, who also noted that the county hired a nurse for the jail, which previously had no full-time trained medical personnel. “Now they can move forward, knowing they fought hard for Cynthia.” See: Brooks v. Wilkinson County, 393 Supp. 3d 1147 (M.D. Ga. 2019). 


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Related legal case

Brooks v. Wilkinson County