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$2.45 Million Paid by Wellpath and Macomb County, Michigan, After Detainee’s Withdrawal Death in Jail

by Ben Tschirhart

On March 31, 2022, an agreement was entered by Michigan’s Macomb County paying $1.15 million to the estate of David Stojcevski, 32, a detainee who died from drug withdrawal while in custody in the county jail. Separately, the jail’s privately contracted healthcare provider, Correct Care Solutions (CCS) — now Wellpath — reportedly agreed to pay another $1.3 million to settle its share of the claims raised by the dead man’s mother on behalf of his estate.

When Stojcevski was booked into the jail on June 11, 2014, he was supposed to serve only 30 days on a failure-to-appear charge for a careless driving citation. Instead he got a death sentence. During the intake screening process, Stojcevski informed staff that he was being treated with prescriptions for methadone, benzodiazepines, and other opiate medication. His last methadone dose had been 24 hours before, he said. What no one said, but jail medical staff should have known, was that withdrawal from any one of these medications can lead to severe health problems or even death, and that withdrawing from all at once is a medical emergency.

Nevertheless, jail staff made no effort to confirm or acquire Stojcevski’s prescriptions, according to the complaint later filed. He was placed in a “high observation” cell, a grotesquely ironic name for the place where allegedly no effort was made to ensure that he received adequate nutrition or hydration over the next 16 days, as his uneaten meals piled up and he shed 44 pounds from his 195-pound weight.

Instead, guards, nurses and doctors noted the detainee was behaving “bizarrely” and “refused to engage” with mental health workers. Locked in a suicide-watch cell without toilet paper, he was “lying on the floor naked, with rapid eye movement,” staff wrote, but they concluded he was “exaggerating his symptoms.”

After Stojcevski began having seizures, CCS Dr. Lawrence Sherman noted the detainee’s eyes were “fluttering” in what he opined was “certainly not a seizure, but … most likely his poor attempt to feign one.” No vitals were taken, and no medical examination was made.

After multiple days on the floor, naked and starving, Stojcevski rolled into the middle of the cell and stopped moving. His breathing became shallow. Two guards reportedly watched on video surveillance as Stojcevski died, but they didn’t attempt to get medical attention for him until he was no longer breathing. After they finally called for an ambulance, responding personnel pronounced the detainee dead on June 27, 2014.

Represented by attorneys from Ihrie O’Brien in St. Clair Shores, Dafinka “Stephanie” Stojcevski filed suit on behalf of her son’s estate in federal court for the Eastern District of Michigan in November 2015 under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Michigan Wrongful Death Act against Macomb County, Sheriff Anthony Wickersham and his jail guards, as well as CCS personnel. The Court dismissed several guards from the suit. But it refused to grant qualified immunity to the remaining jail staff, rejecting “their assertion that they referred all of [Stojcevski’s] complaints to the medical staff and that this was ‘all they could do’ for [him].” See: Stojcevski v. Cty. of Macomb, 143 F. Supp. 3d 675 (E.D. Mich. 2015).

Numerous hearings followed over the next six years while another case played out in the Sixth Circuit, Brawner v. Scott Cty., which ultimately lowered the legal bar for plaintiffs in suits involving a pretrial detainee like Stojcevski. [See: PLN, Mar. 2022, p.52.] Five days after that decision was handed down, the Court ruled on several motions in limine in Stojcevski’s case on September 27, 2021.

In those, the Court denied efforts by CCS to limit Plaintiff’s damages and preclude her from soliciting testimony from its expert witness. Also denied were CCS requests to keep Plaintiff from using its staff personnel files or an earlier New York medical board discipline against Sherman, as well as surveillance video footage and the results of an FBI investigation into the matter. A raft of similar motions by the county was also denied. See: Stojcevski v. Cty. of Macomb, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 184047 (E.D. Mich.).

That was apparently enough to get Defendants to the settlement table. Of the proceeds, $679,000 was reportedly earmarked for attorney’s fees and another $185,000 for costs. In addition, $250,000 was placed in trust for care of Stojcevski’s surviving brother, Vladmir, who was in the jail at the same time and suffered a seizure that left him mentally incapacitated. See: Stojcevski v. Cty. of Macomb, USDC (E.D. Mich.), Case No. 4:15-cv-11019.

The FBI investigation found no wrongdoing, and no charges were ever filed in the matter. 

Additional source: Macomb Daily

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Stojcevski v. Cty. of Macomb

Stojcevski v. Cty. of Macomb

Stojcevski v. County of Macomb