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A man who is charged in a fatal Lexington shooting has filed a lawsuit against the city and jail officials accusing them of allowing him to suffer serious injuries related to withdrawal from benzodiazepines while incarcerated.
Chase W. Helvey, 25, was arrested on March 29, 2018. He is being held in the Fayette County jail on charges of murder, kidnapping and assault.
Helvey is accused of shooting James D. Potter, 36, of Richmond in the head and assaulting a woman on March 25, according to police. The alleged attack occurred after a disagreement over money between Helvey and the woman, according to court records.
Potter, who was shot in the head, was trying to drive away with the woman who was assaulted when he struck a University of Kentucky building on Maxwelton Court. He and the 29-year-old woman were taken to a hospital. Potter died and the woman was treated for serious blunt-force trauma injuries. Helvey is accused of restraining one of the victims in his home and assaulting the victim with a wooden object and blowtorch, according to court records.
When Helvey was booked into the Fayette County jail in 2018, he told officials that he ingested more than 30 milligrams of benzodiazepines daily, and that he had taken them the day of his arrest, the lawsuit said.
“When Kentuckians suffering from substance abuse disorders are incarcerated in Kentucky jails, the jail’s security and medical staff are often the only people who can ensure the incarcerated person’s survival,” Helvey’s attorneys said in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit accuses the jail and its personnel of waiting until Helvey was “on death’s door” before transporting him to a hospital to receive treatment for his withdrawal symptoms.
“This lawsuit is important because Chase Helvey isn’t the last person who is going to show up at the Fayette County Detention Center with an opioid problem,” said Aaron Bentley, Helvey’s attorney. “Kentucky is in the midst of an opioid epidemic. Most of us have a friend or family member who has struggled with addiction. If the jail and its medical staff continue treating people the way they treated Chase, people will die.“
The lawsuit said that the Fayette County jail has a policy that it does not provide benzodiazepines to inmates who are going through withdrawal or are in danger of withdrawal. City spokespeople would not comment on whether or not the jail has such a policy.
Medical personnel at the jail instructed jail employees without medical training to monitor Helvey’s withdrawal symptoms, the lawsuit said. On the day after his arrest, March 30, the jail’s primary physician noted that Helvey was going through withdrawal, but “did nothing,” the lawsuit states.
On March 31, Helvey was moved from a medical cell to general population, according to the lawsuit. By April 2, Helvey was unable to speak and had a tremor when he was being assessed by jail and medical staff.
On April 3, Helvey was “hallucinating and could not form words,” the lawsuit states. Later in the day, Helvey was found lying naked on the floor of his cell and his entire body was tremoring, according to the lawsuit. About 30 minutes after that, Helvey was assessed and found to be experiencing “mild withdrawal.”
More than an hour later, Helvey was “very pale, sweating heavily, hallucinating and talking to a wall,” according to the lawsuit. His hands were cold and turning blue. He was taken to University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital’s emergency department.
At UK, it was determined that Helvey had an acute kidney injury and rhabdomyolysis, a release of damaging protein caused by muscle breakdown that can affect the kidneys. Doctors also found that air was escaping Helvey’s lungs into his chest through a tear in his esophagus that was “likely due to retching and vomiting in the jail,” according to the lawsuit.
While at UK, Helvey was given tapering doses of the benzodiazepine Ativan until he was stable enough to be discharged, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit names the city of Lexington, which funds the jail; Fayette County jail director Steve Haney; Corizon Health; and several jail officials as defendants. It accuses the defendants of negligence and the city and jail of not appropriately training jail officials to handle cases of withdrawal.
The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court on April 1, seeks compensatory and punitive damages.
Helvey’s criminal case is set to go to trial in September. A second man, Austin J. Adams, 22, was also charged with assault in the case.