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$1.325 Million Settlement after Virginia Detainee’s Opiate Withdrawal Ignored in Jail

by David Reutter

On January 31, 2023, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia approved a $1.325 million settlement in a suit brought by the estate of Darryl Terrell Becton against the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office and its private healthcare contractor at the Arlington County Detention Facility (ACDF), Corizon Health, Inc., as well as a doctor and several nurses the firm employed at the lockup.

During booking into ACDF on September 29, 2020, Becton, 46, informed staff he was an opiate user who also suffered from “hypertension and heart problems,” as the complaint later filed on his behalf recalled. Nurses Lois Ntiamoah and Natasha Toy noted when he turned pale and vomited. A Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale (COWS) protocol was ordered, including regular assessments and blood pressure checks.

But that was allegedly botched; the complaint noted that Licensed Practical Nurse Antoine Smith was subsequently charged criminally with falsifying patient records. [See: PLN, Mar. 2022, p.52.] In his cell, his blood pressure skyrocketing, Becton told Ntiamoah early on October 1, 2020, that he was “withdrawing from heroin and fentanyl.”

Becton was then admitted to the medical unit, where Dr. Richard Ashby was admitting practitioner. Ntiamoah again ordered the COWS protocol, but no one followed that directive. After his vitals were taken at 6:59 a.m., Becton received no more medical attention for the last nine hours of his life.

Instead he was placed in a cell and observed during 14 rounds by guard Seaton Sok. His last interaction with Becton was to deliver a food tray at 12:30 p.m., “at which time the subject grunted at the deputy,” the Assistant Chief Medical Examiner later noted. At 4:16 p.m., Becton was found unresponsive in his cell. He was cold to the touch and subsequently declared dead. The cause of death: hypertensive cardiovascular disease complicated by opiate withdrawal.

Becton’s estate sued on April 13, 2022, alleging unconstitutionally deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs, as well as making state-law negligence and wrongful death claims. The parties then proceeded to reach their settlement, with Corizon and its employees agreeing to pay $775,000 and the Sheriff’s Office and Sok another $550,000.

From those amounts, $325,000 in attorney fees and $91,573.98 in costs was awarded to Plaintiff’s attorneys from The Krudys Law Firm in Richmond. After paying Becton’s burial costs, his five adult children received $180,223.80 each from the remainder of the award. See: Ford v. Corizon Health, Inc., USDC, (E.D.Va.), Case No. 1:22-cv-00411.

Meanwhile Smith was acquitted of the misdemeanor charge on October 4, 2022. Before that, ACDF replaced Corizon Health with MEDIKO in November 2021. Corizon Health put many of its liabilities into a new firm, Tehum Care Services, Inc., which declared bankruptcy. But as of May 2023, its unsecured obligations did not include this payout. See: In Re: Tehum Care Services, Inc., USBC (S.D. Tex.), Case No. 23-90086.

“Once you come to jail, it’s not a sentence to death,” vowed newly elected Sheriff Jose Quiroz. He announced a new contract on May 18, 2023, to outfit ACJ detainees with biometric wrist monitors from 4Sight Labs. Massachusetts state prisoners were fitted with the Fitbit-like devices, which are designed to track vital signs, under a contract signed in May 2021. [See: PLN, July 2021, p.26.] Other lockups using the technology include Arkansas’ Benton County Jail, Oklahoma’s Cleveland County Jail and the San Diego jail system.

Additional sources: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Government Technology, San Diego Union-Tribune, WTOP