The first suit was filed on June 2, 2020, by Amanda Carpenter, the ex-wife of detainee Mark Eugene Simms, on behalf of their teenage daughter. She accuses the county and Sheriff Matt Champlin of deliberate indifference, gross negligence, and inadequate training, which led to the 36-year-old Simms’ death in custody in December 2018, four days after he was arrested for nonpayment of child support. He was being held at the jail for inability to post a $2,000 bond.
A month earlier, the longtime methamphetamine user had signed himself out of a Kentucky hospital because he was unable to afford surgery prescribed for an enlarged artery in his stomach, which had been diagnosed and was in danger of bursting.
At the jail, Simms reported this on his booking form, repeating the information multiple times to jail staff and other prisoners. The day after his arrest, he began complaining to Deputy Garrett Hill of severe stomach pain. Simms also reminded Hill that he had been hospitalized for an abdominal aneurysm and still needed surgery. Hill instructed guard Brooklyn Stapleton to contact Deputy Sergeant Nicholas Clagg about Simms’ complaints.
Clagg questioned Simms, who reported to him and Deputy Todd Bumbalough his pain, prior hospitalization and need for surgery. Clagg then told Bumbalough to contact Gallia County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel. They arrived and examined Simms, but they did not palpate his stomach out of concern that might cause the artery to burst. They recommended he be transported to a hospital for evaluation, but Clagg declined. Instead he ordered Stapleton to sign a treatment and transport refusal form on Simms’ behalf. She was also ordered to keep him closely monitored and advise Clagg of any change in his condition. But after a shift change, incoming staff was not told about the EMS visit or monitoring requirement.
The next day, Simms began vomiting. Guard Ryan Perry told Nurse Practitioner Betsy Canaday that Simms was “vomiting everywhere.” He also relayed Simms’ report that he was suffering from Suboxone withdrawal and might have Hepatitis A. No mention was made about the abdominal aneurysm or EMS visit, however. Canaday ordered a “detox packet” for Simms, but she did not personally examine him.
Throughout that day, Simms begged for transport to the hospital, and prisoners in nearby housing reported hearing him moaning for help. He was ignored. His mother came for a visit, but Simms left the visitation area after two minutes because he felt so ill. On the rare occasions he was monitored, guards saw more vomit but did nothing. In fact, Bumbalough told other prisoners that Simms was using his fingers to induce his vomiting.
Later that day, Simms’ mother returned to bail him out and take him to the hospital. He got up and slipped on the vomit on his cell floor, hit a bench in the cell and began uncontrollably vomiting a black liquid. EMS was summoned, but he died. An autopsy listed arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease with methamphetamine intoxication as significant conditions. See: Carpenter v. Champlin, Case No. 20-cv-2836, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Ohio).
In the second lawsuit, filed on June 18, 2020, former jail guard Debra Smith claims that Sheriff Champlin’s negligence is to blame for injuries she suffered in September 2019 when four male prisoners overpowered her to escape.
Despite a policy prohibiting female guards from being left alone to watch over male prisoners, Smith and another female guard were the only jail staff at the time guarding nearly 40 inmates, most of whom were men. The jail, located in the basement of the county courthouse, has a design capacity of 11 prisoners.
The escapees were recaptured the next day in North Carolina. Smith’s attorney, John Rutan, said his client had not been able to return to work since she was injured during the escape. Andrew Yosowitz, an attorney representing the county and Sheriff Champlin, said that they “continue to support” Smith’s recovery, but that “the inmates’ decision to assault” her does not entitle her to damages. See: Smith v. Gallia County Jail et al, Case No. 2:2020-cv-03089, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Ohio).
In addition to Smith’s injuries and Simms’ death, the jail was the site of the November 2020 suicide of detainee David “Tommy” Gibson. Despite a policy that should have placed the 27-year-old in an observation cell because he was on drug-withdrawal watch, he died in an isolation cell.
“You can build a new jail—and we do need a new jail,” said Gibson’s mother, Sherry Russell. “But we need to manage what we have now effectively. My son will not have died in vain.”
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Related legal case
Carpenter v. Champlin
|Cite||Case No. 20-cv-2836, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Ohio)|