Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

$2 Million Paid by North Carolina Jail for Prisoner’s Wrongful Death; Undisclosed Amount Paid by Southeastern Medical Services

by Jacob Barrett

On January 8, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina approved a $2 million settlement to be paid by Buncombe County, North Carolina, for the wrongful death of Michele Quantele Smiley, a 34-year-old mother of six children left to die in a cell at the Buncombe County Detention Center (BCDC) in Asheville in 2017. The court also approved a settlement by the jail’s private, for-profit medical care provider, Southeastern Medical Services, which it then sealed.

Irene Warren Kent, Smiley’s grandmother, brought the suit as the Administratrix of Smiley’s estate and legal guardian of Smiley’s minor children.

Kent alleged that a slew of Buncombe County officials and employees—including Van Duncan, Charles J. Wilhelm, Jeffrey Leon Littrell, Thomas Christopher Barber, Ryan Patrick Zabloudil, Michael Corn, Edward F. Parker, Tina Cox Miller and Meghan T. Riddle—failed to provide appropriate medical treatment for Smiley, failed to contact emergency medical services on her behalf, failed to secure emergency medical care from a licensed physician, and failed to transport her to the hospital, in violation of their affirmative obligations under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 153A-224 and N.C. Gen. Stat. § 162-55, as well as in violation of Smiley’s rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Smiley was taken to BCDC by three probation officers after her arrest for alleged violations of her probation. She was brought into the booking area of the lockup by a guard, Defendant Corn. During the first 27 minutes, Smiley began showing signs she was experiencing a severe drug overdose. According to records, “Smiley had an ashy undertone in her face, her pupils were dilated, her anxiety and agitation began to increase, she could not sit still, [and] she was pacing back and forth in the bathroom.”

Smiley told the defendants that she was “burning up from the inside out” and disclosed that she had swallowed “a lot” of “meth(amphetamine).” She repeatedly stated, “I can’t do this” and “I don’t feel right.” Defendant Miller, a licensed practical nurse, allegedly did nothing to treat Smiley’s condition or to assist her in obtaining emergency medical treatment.

After being placed in a cell alone, Smiley rolled around on the floor for nearly an hour. Then she exhibited seizure-like movements, went into cardiac arrest, and stopped breathing.

While the defendants settled for $2 million, Buncombe County officials gave a boilerplate statement that the settlement should not be “construed as an admission of liability.” A separate settlement with the jail’s privately-owned health care contractor, Southeastern Medical Services, Inc., was also approved by the Court, which then ordered it sealed. See: Kent v. Duncan, USDC, W.D.N.C., Case No. 1:18-cv-00322-MR-WCM.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Kent v. Duncan