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$900,000 Settlement Reached With Ohio Jail in Detainee’s Fatal Seizure

by David M. Reutter

In October 2023, an attorney representing the estate of an Ohio pretrial jail detainee who suffered a fatal seizure after her June 2018 incarceration said the parties had reached a $900,000 settlement agreement.

The announcement by R. Craig McLaughlin of Elk & Elk Co., LTD in Mayfield Heights, came just months after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed a lower court’s grant of summary judgment to a jail nurse in a lawsuit McLaughlin filed for the estate of Jennifer Ohlinger, alleging deliberate indifference to her serious medical condition. But in its ruling on June 29, 2023, the Court also affirmed summary judgment for guards who relied upon the medical judgment of the nurse, James Gray II.

Ohlinger was booked into Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail (SEORJ) in June 2018, after her arrest for burglary and receiving stolen property. At intake, she reported a history of bipolar disorder and depression and said that she used intravenous heroin daily. But in recorded phone calls with family members she reported she was “doing good.”

On the morning of June 25, 2018, Ohlinger struck her head, briefly lost consciousness and urinated on herself. Gray responded to that 6:57 a.m. medical emergency, examining Ohlinger after she regained consciousness to determine “there was nothing acute going on with her” so “there was no objective information transpiring that warranted further action outside of monitoring.” Ohlinger was assisted back to her cell by guards, appearing steady on her feet, and was told to report any symptoms immediately.

A few minutes later, guards escorted Ohlinger back to the medical unit at 7:07 a.m. She had again urinated on herself, was unsteady on her feet and had a headache, which was attributed to hitting her head. Gray took a urine sample and ordered a blood test, giving Ohlinger some Ibuprofen. She was escorted to her cell to await a laboratory technician to draw blood.

That never happened, though. At 9:12 a.m., Ohlinger was found unresponsive in her cell. Attempts to revive her failed. She was transported to a hospital, where she was declared dead. An autopsy blamed seizure activity due to a subarachnoid hemorrhage and subdural hematoma of undetermined etiology. With the aid of attorney McLaughlin, Ohlinger’s estate sued, accusing Gray and guards Charity Lowery and Amista Jarvis of deliberate indifference to Ohlinger’s serious medical need. But the federal court for the Southern District of Ohio granted Defendants summary judgment. The estate appealed.

The Sixth Circuit affirmed the decision for the guards but reversed judgment against Gray. SEORJ guidelines required him to consult a doctor or transfer to the Emergency Department any detainee who “suffered loss of consciousness and/or demonstrates unusual behavior and/or has a seizure after injury.” A detainee with a documented seizure disorder who suffered a seizure must be referred to a doctor.

None of that happened, although failure to follow policy alone was insufficient to support a deliberate indifference claim, the Court said. However, it added “there is more that could lead a reasonable jury to find Nurse Gray knew that Ohlinger had lost consciousness and that she had possibly hit her head and experienced seizures.” In addition to sending other detainees to a hospital regardless of objective data he collected, Gray “admitted that hitting one’s head, suffering a concussion, and experiencing a seizure could cause life-threatening injuries and that he should have consulted a physician in Ohlinger’s case,” the Court recalled. Based on those circumstances it said that “Nurse Gray knew, or should have known, that Ohlinger had a serious need for medical attention.”

Thus summary judgment for Gray was reversed. The grant of summary judgment to Lowrey and Jarvis was affirmed because they reasonably deferred to Gray’s medical expertise. A request to rehear the case before the entire Sixth Circuit en banc was then denied on July 31, 2023. See: Mercer v. Athens Cty., 72 F.4th 152 (6th Cir. 2023); and 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 19728 (6th Cir.).

On October 23, 2023, the parties advised the district court that they had reached a $900,000 settlement with the aid of private mediator Craig Scott. The full terms were not yet disclosed, pending approval by the Gallia County Probate Court, which is overseeing Ohlinger’s estate. See: Mercer v. Athens Cty., USDC (S.D. Ohio), Case No. 2:20-cv-03214.

“This case has been going on for a long time, and I think it brings closure to all the parties involved—closure and finality, which everybody, I think, is relieved to have,” added Aaron M. Glasgow, Gray’s attorney.

Gray no longer works for the jail, after being indicted in a separate incident for stealing from medication supplies in June 2019. He reportedly bargained a plea to lesser charge—possessing criminal tools—and paid $700 in fees before entering a county diversion program.  


Additional sources: Athens Independent, Logan Daily News

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Related legal cases

Mercer v. Athens Cty

Mercer v. Athens Cty