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Over $298,000 Awarded to Alabama Jail Detainee with Heart Disease After Guards, Nurses Ignored Firing Defibrillator

by David M. Reutter

After a federal jury awarded $135,000 to an Alabama man deprived of medical care for a heart condition while detained at the Autauga County Jail (ACJ), the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama awarded another $163,268.25 in fees and expenses to his attorney on September 1, 2022.

The jury for the Court made its award to Trenton Gartman on April 7, 2022, almost six years after he was arrested on a misdemeanor charge for domestic abuse on May 25, 2016. He was booked into ACJ, informing guard Patrick Cheatham that he had a heart condition requiring medications. He also provided a list of those medications, and he stated that he had an implanted cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), which regulates heart rhythm and emits an electrical shock to correct abnormal rhythm when it detects irregular heart function.

When his parents brought his medications to the jail that night, however, the drugs were rejected for not being verified by a physician. Then, a few hours after his booking, Gartman began experiencing shortness of breath and heart problems. A guard called the on-duty nurse, Lisa Brady, who worked for ACJ’s medical contractor, Quality Correctional Health Care (QCHC). She told the guard to do nothing and said that she would check on Gartman when she came to work the next morning. Gartman continued to complain of chest pains, shortness of breath, and dizziness.

Brady failed to check on Gartman when she came to work on the morning of May 26, 2016. Finally, in the early afternoon, Gartman was taken to the medical unit and examined by another QCHC nurse, Lateshia Bell. While there, Gartman’s ICD fired, causing him to fall to the floor. Ball did a heart rate check and declared Gartman was just fine. Gartman protested he was not fine – that he needed his heat medication and medical attention, too. Ball said she did not have time because she needed to do pill call, so she sent Gartman back to his cell. But she agreed he should be placed in a cell where guards could watch him until he was released later that day.

During the walk to get his belongings, the ICD fired several more times. Gartman fell and defecated, soiling himself. Cheatham and guard Jabari Agee repeatedly told Gartman to get up and move, despite his condition. After one fall, another guard passing by pulled his Taser and threatened to use it if Gartman did not comply with their commands.

Gartman’s lawyer visited him 14 hours after he made his first request for medical care. Seeing Gartman was in bad shape, the attorney demanded help. Gartman was then taken to a hospital, but not before he was forced to sign a release and hold-harmless agreement for the jail. Gartman spent three weeks in the hospital and underwent a heart catheterization procedure. His cardiologist found the ICD had fired 37 times while Gartman was held at ACJ.

Represented by Birmingham-based attorney Alan B. Lasseter, Gartman filed suit in the Court. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, he accused QCHC and its employees, as well as ACJ guards, of deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs, in violation of his Eighth Amendment guarantee of freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.

Agee, Cheatham and Brady moved for summary judgment, but they were denied on March, 9, 2022. See: Gartman v. Cheatham, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41583 (M.D. Ala.). The case then went to trial, and the jury returned its verdict, awarding $100,000 in compensatory damages and $35,000 in punitive damages. See: Gartman v. Cheatham, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85921 (M.D. Ala.).The Court then added $143,552 in fees and $19,716.25 in expenses for Gartman’s Birmingham attorney. See: Gartman v. Brady, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 158125 (M.D. Ala.). 

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