Family of Fayette jail inmate who died after seizure files wrongful-death suit

jkegley@herald-leader.comNovember 13, 2012 

An inmate who became unresponsive at the Fayette County Detention Center in May was assaulted, restrained and pepper sprayed by jail staff while having a seizure, according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed Tuesday in Fayette Circuit Court. Relatives of inmate Jeffrey McKinney are seeking an unspecified amount of damages from the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, the Division of Community Corrections and Corizon Inc., the contractor for medical services at the jail.

The lawsuit also names Mayor Jim Gray, jail director Rodney Ballard, 14 corrections officers and nine Corizon employees as defendants.

City spokeswoman Susan Straub said she could not comment specifically on the lawsuit. However, Gray and city officials have said in the past that they think jail staff acted appropriately to subdue McKinney, who was "displaying forceful behavior."

McKinney, 37, was serving a 10-day sentence for driving under the influence of alcohol when he died May 22. Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn said in September that McKinney asphyxiated after choking on his vomit during a seizure and a struggle with jail staff.

Court documents filed Tuesday outlined events leading to McKinney's death, which the coroner's office ruled accidental.

According to the lawsuit, jail staff made note of McKinney's seizure disorder when he was booked May 17. He had at least two seizures May 22.

Following the first seizure, at 12:49 p.m., McKinney was transferred to a housing unit where he could be watched more closely. He had a second seizure about 6:19 p.m.

"During the time that Jeffrey M. McKinney was suffering from the second seizure, numerous correctional officers and employees of the Fayette County Detention Center forcibly restrained and physically assaulted ... McKinney and ultimately handcuffed and shackled him," the lawsuit said.

McKinney was placed in a restraint chair "which caused him to scream out for help," it said.

Corrections officers placed a "spit hood" over McKinney's face and pepper sprayed him twice, the lawsuit said. He was immobilized in the restraint chair the second time he was sprayed, it said.

The lawsuit said that a nurse employed by Corizon then gave McKinney a dose of Ativan, an anti-anxiety drug, and that McKinney was placed in a cell and became unresponsive.

"Correctional officers and other employees of the Fayette County Detention Center began resuscitation efforts which were unsuccessful," the document said.

McKinney was taken by ambulance to University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital, where he died.

By using physical force, restraints and medication, jail staff "engaged in various aggressive and unwarranted activities, conduct and behavior" that resulted in McKinney's injury and death, the lawsuit said.

The plaintiffs in the case are McKinney's father, Robert McKinney, and two former wives, Sherri McKinney and Rachel McKinney, on behalf of Jeffery McKinney's three minor children.

Robert McKinney said Tuesday he did not wish to comment. An attorney for the family, Kevin P. Fox of Frankfort, said it was too early to comment.

They are seeking damages for Jeffery McKinney's suffering, his loss of earnings, and the family's loss of "love, affection, companionship and consortium."

They also are seeking punitive damages and reimbursement for funeral and burial expenses.

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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