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Section 1983 claim denied for family of man who died in custody

Charles Jones was incarcerated in Macomb County for 35 days for failing to pay child support.  On admission, he explained that he suffered from severe asthma problems.  Between 9 pm on June 6 and 2:37 on the 7th, he sought aid from the medical staff of the jail on five separate occasions as he experienced breathing problems that continued to worsen.  He was administered albuterol on several occasions, but no definitive treatment was afforded him, and by 2:30 his blood oxygen was only 60 percent and he was begging to be taken to the hospital.  An ambulance was finally called and arrived at 2:44, but some delay was experienced when the jail staff questioned whether he was "faking", and he did not arrive at the hospital until approximately 4 a.m.  He was declared dead at 4:11, and the cause of death assigned by the medical examiner was "severe asthma attack".

Jones' family brought an action against the jail staff, alleging that the staff was responsible for his death.  In a custodial situation such as this, the governmental employees are not responsible for "medical malpractice" unless they were "deliberately indifferent" to the inmate's medical needs.  A governmental actor is immune from liability for ordinary negligence and is only responsible for a denial of the inmate's civil rights.  In this case, where a person being punished by 35 days' incarceration is allowed to die, the law recognizes a constitutional violational of rights only if the inmate was deliberately subjected to inappropriate punishment.

Despite Jones' repeated pleas for help, his demonstrated objective symptoms, the repeated failure of Defendants' treatment attempts, the potentially fatal nature of severe asthma, and the delay resulting from Defendants' allegations of "faking", the Court ruled that the family had not shown the requisite "deliberate" denial of proper medical care.  It doesn't speak well for the Macomb County Jail, or for our justice system, when a man in custody is allowed to die without recourse against the persons who were supervising his care.  No one should experience the agony of a suffocating death as careless punishment for late payment of child support.  This should not even happen in third-world countries.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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