Herald-Leader Editorial

Inmate's death merits deeper review of Lexington jail's medical care

December 7, 2012 

The details of the most recent death of an inmate at Lexington's jail are particularly grisly.

On May 22 Jeffrey McKinney, who had epilepsy, bit his tongue during a seizure and spat blood on a jail nurse. His face was covered with a hood to prevent him from spitting on anyone else. He struggled and corrections officers sprayed pepper spray into his eyes, handcuffed and shackled him. He was put in a restraining chair so a nurse could give him an injection for anxiety, he resisted again and an officer delivered a knee strike and applied pressure to his clavicle, or collarbone.

McKinney stopped moving. Officers removed the hood and realized he had stopped breathing. He had thrown up and choked on his own vomit.

McKinney's family has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against city officials and corrections officers and employees of Corizon, Inc., the company that contracts to provide health care at the jail. An internal police investigation found no criminal wrongdoing and Coroner Gary Ginn has ruled the death an accident. No corrections officers were disciplined as a result of McKinney's death.

Ginn suggested to the Herald-Leader that some jail policies should be reviewed but the city has not indicated any plans to take that advice. City spokeswoman Susan Straub has said the city has no plans to review either jail procedures or Corizon's services. "Appropriate procedures were followed," she said.

With a lawsuit pending, it's no surprise city and jail officials are saying very little.

The city's record on inmate deaths has certainly improved since 2005, when four men died in the jail. Interim director Ray Sabbatine — who took over when Ron Bishop left and served until Rodney Ballard took the job permanently in April — made changes to reduce the use of force in the jail and asked Corizon to make staffing changes.

But still it seems that a fresh look at both the procedures and the services provided by Corizon, which is paid $2,883,924 a year, is in order, particularly with a new director in place. Inmate deaths are tragic and the lawsuits they often give rise to can be very expensive, even when they are unsuccessful.

It may well be impossible to prevent any inmate from ever dying while in custody at our county jail. But each of those tragedies can also serve as a motivation to work harder to prevent another one.

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