Lawsuit claims negligence at Big Sandy jail resulted in inmate's 2010 death

Jail workers accused of ignoring diabetic's needs

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comJuly 20, 2011 

An inmate at the Big Sandy Regional Detention Center died last year after his diabetes was left untreated, and jail employees watched him lie unresponsive for an hour before calling an ambulance, a federal lawsuit filed Monday alleges.

The estate of James Sours filed the complaint in U.S. District Court in Pikeville against the regional jail in Johnson County, which was the target of a grand jury investigation last year; another inmate died in 2009.

After Sours entered the jail on July 13, 2010, he told a jail employee he was diabetic, had liver problems and had been in the hospital the month before for complications of his diabetes, according to the complaint.

But there was no record of corrections officers recording Sours' blood sugar, as a physician ordered, after 3 p.m. July 14 and no record that Sours received insulin for two days.

"The law is very clear that when you go to jail, the authorities, because they have complete control and custody over you, have got to pay attention to and respond to your serious medical needs," said Gregory A. Belzley, an inmates' rights lawyer, who is representing the late inmate's brother William Sours .

The complaint detailed the hours leading up to Sours' death:

On July 14, 2010, Sours began exhibiting signs of ketoacidosis, a condition Belzley said can be caused by missing doses of insulin and can be fatal to people with diabetes if not promptly addressed. Sours was vomiting and had chest pain.

During a head count at 10:40 p.m. July 15, Sours was observed breathing but otherwise was not responsive. Jail employees talked about taking him to the hospital, but they apparently concluded they would be unable to get Sours "in the cruiser."

An ambulance was not called for more than an hour after Sours was first observed as non-responsive, according to the complaint.

"When the EMTs arrived at the jail and examined Mr. Sours, he was no longer breathing," the complaint said.

The medical examiner found that diabetic ketoacidosis was the cause of Sours' death.

The complaint said Sours had refused medicine three times, but Belzley said in an interview that jail records don't say whether the medicine was insulin. The complaint said employees did nothing more than document the refusal.

Belzley said Tuesday that he did not have access to records indicating the charges that led to Sours' incarceration. The complaint said Sours was "detoxing."

Nelson Sparks, an attorney for Big Sandy Regional Jail Authority, said Tuesday that he had not seen the lawsuit.

Another lawsuit, filed in 2010 against the jail by the estate of a woman who the suit said died after failing to get medical treatment for pneumonia at the jail in 2009, was settled two weeks ago, said Mitchell Kinner, an attorney for the estate of the inmate, Sherry McFaddin.

Kinner said Tuesday that he could not disclose the settlement amount under the terms of the agreement.

While the complaint in the McFaddin case doesn't provide specific details of her death, Kinner gave the Herald-Leader a report from a correctional health-care consultant who had reviewed jail records. That consultant, Joseph E. Paris, found that McFaddin told jail officials on March 24, 2009, that her lungs were hurting and that she was dizzy and weak, but she didn't receive prompt medical care.

On March 27, 2009, McFaddin was found in her cell moaning and unable to talk. She stopped breathing, and an ambulance was called, but she could not be resuscitated, the report said.

Meanwhile, a Johnson County grand jury in May 2010 said in a report that Henry "Butch" Williams, then administrator at Big Sandy, failed to exercise sound management of the jail. The grand jury report said a Kentucky State Police investigation discovered complaints and issues that included physical and mental mistreatment of inmates, use of inmates for jail employees' personal gain and a lack of accounting procedures.

Williams was indicted in June 2010 for bribery of a public servant and official misconduct for knowingly failing to perform his duties.

The indictment alleged that he accepted a vehicle from a man in exchange for arranging the transfer of the man's wife from the Grant County jail to Big Sandy.

Williams pleaded guilty in February to charges of abuse of public trust and official misconduct, and was sentenced to five years in prison on one charge and 12 months on the other. Williams was denied shock probation July 1, according to court records.

The lawsuit regarding Sours' death names Williams as the jail administrator when Sours died. Williams had not been fired by July 2010, but he had been suspended, and Randy Madan, a former federal prison official, was named the interim administrator.

Madan was not at the jail Tuesday, but Sparks, the attorney for Big Sandy Jail Authority, said Big Sandy had made significant improvements under Madan.

In an interview Tuesday, Johnson Commonwealth's Attorney Anna Melvin, who prosecuted Williams, agreed.

In both the way the building is maintained "and administratively, you can see a big difference," said Melvin. "The jail is like a new place."

Reach Valarie Honeycutt Spears at (859) 231-3409 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3409.

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