Last updated: 10 months ago
A lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal Western District Court accuses Garfield County officials of negligence in the death of an inmate last year, as well as violating the man's constitutional rights.
The suit was filed by James Graham, as a special administrator for the estate of Anthony Huff, who died while in custody at Garfield County Detention Facility on June 8, 2016.
The 23-page lawsuit lists Garfield County Detention Center, Garfield County Board of County Commissioners, Sheriff Jerry Niles, then jail administrator Jennifer Niles, Turn Key Health Clinics, nurse Lela Goatley and three John Does as defendants in the case.
The suit is seeking actual and compensatory damages in excess of $75,000, as well as punitive damages, attorneys fees and costs.
According to the factual background listed in the suit, the jail and Turn Key were familiar with Huff from prior detentions, including a medical/mental screening performed Jan. 10, 2016, and another screening May 17, 2016, both performed by Turn Key.
" ... Medical staff knew Mr. Huff required medication for heart disease; suffered from insomnia, hypertension and depression; and knew he took Coreg and Lisinopril for coronary artery disease and Sertraline and Zoloft for depression and has a reported history of alcoholism," according to the suit. The suit claims when Huff was arrested on a complaint of public intoxication June 4, 2016, he was taken into custody but did not receive an initial medical screening and was booked into jail without any of his medications.
The suit alleges on June 6, 2016, Huff was placed in a restraint chair where he remained until his death June 8, 2016. According to the suit, at the time of Huff's death there was " ... only a trace of Sertraline and no other medications were found in Mr. Huff's blood."
The suit also claims no medical reviews were conducted or medical recommendations obtained before Huff was placed into the restraint chair.
The suit also alleges violations of policy when Huff was not videotaped or recorded until he had been in the restraint chair for 30 hours. The suit also claims Huff did not receive his medications and did not receive regular blood pressure checks or assessments.
The suit also makes the following claims:
• "That Defendants know, were told, or have been told that Mr. Huff died more than 30 minutes before anyone checked on him."
• "That Defendants removed Mr. Huff from the restraint chair before outside medical personnel arrived upon the scene and before any investigation into Mr. Huff's death could take place."
• "That Defendants made no attempts to resuscitate plaintiff's decedent for more than 30 minutes before outside medical personnel arrived upon the scene on the day that he died."
• "That although Mr. Huff reported a history of hypertension, mental illness, and had informed Defendants of medications he had been taking prior to his arrest, he never received them."
• "That Defendants failed to perform regular sight checks on Mr. Huff despite the fact that he suffered from multiple medical conditions which necessitated constant monitoring."
• "That from June 6, 2016, until he died on June 8, 2016, Defendants failed to ensure that Mr. Huff received timely breaks from the restraint chair."
• "That from June 6, 2016, until he died on June 8, 2016, Defendants failed to ensure that Mr. Huff received sufficient food or water."
• "That the lack of breaks from the restraint chair from June 6, 2016 through the time he died on June 8, 2016, resulted in Mr. Huff soiling himself while in the restraint chair."
• "That from June 6, 2016, until he died on June 8, 2016, Defendants did not allow Mr. Huff to change clothes."
• "That Mr. Huff died due to conditions related to his withdrawal from alcohol, and the effects it had on his body and system," and "That the lack of food and water from June 6, 2016, through June 8, 2016, exacerbated the conditions described above and further caused or contributed to the death of Mr. Huff."
The suit also alleges an employee of the department's courthouse security told the sheriff of inappropriate behavior, and access to video of the jail was removed from courthouse computers.
"That on March 18, 2016, less than three months before Mr. Huff died, an employee of the Garfield County Sheriff's Department advised Defendant Sheriff Jerry Niles that she had witnessed several occasions of violent and inappropriate behavior by jail employees, including improper strapping of inmates. The behavior had been witnessed and seen by the Sheriff's Department employee on video monitors located at the Garfield County Courthouse; the behavior at issue occurred at the GCDC," according to the suit. "That the response to the employee's complaint included, but was not limited to, cutting off the video feed from the GCDC to the Garfield County Courthouse, thus preventing the Sheriff's Department employees at the Courthouse to monitor and observe the inmates or detainees who were being transported to the Courthouse from the GCD (sic)."
The suit also claims both Jerry Niles and Jennifer Niles were aware of Huff being placed in the restraint chair for every day between June 6 and 8.
The suit also claims following an investigation by the Garfield County Sheriff's Office no one was disciplined in Huff's death and that the sheriff knew the restrained chair was not being used properly by jail staff.
"That based on the investigation that was conducted, neither Defendant Sheriff Niles nor Defendant Jennifer Niles recommended that anyone involved in the care, custody, control or supervision of Mr. Huff be disciplined, and no one to this date has been disciplined based on how Mr. Huff was treated at the GCDC from June 4, 2016, through June 8, 2016. That Sheriff Niles was aware of a pattern of misconduct as it relates to using the restraint chair, and responded inappropriately and with deliberate indifference to the use of the restraint chair."
The suit claims the treatment of Huff resulted in cruel and unusual punishment. "That placing a detainee in a restraint chair for more than 48 hours without food or water being administered, without the detainee receiving his medications and without breaks at least every two hours constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
"That Defendants deprived Mr. Huff of rights and privileges afforded to him under the Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution in violation of 42 U.S.C. §1983."
An autopsy report for Huff, released in November 2016, lists the manner of death as "natural." The report lists the probable cause of death as "chronic alcoholism, sequelae." Sequelae is pathological condition resulting from a prior disease, injury or attack.
The report, prepared by Medical Examiner Dr. Marc Harrison, included comments about Huff's death.
"This 58-year-old black male was reportedly found unresponsive in his jail cell (by jailers). EMS responded and he was pronounced dead at the scene. He has reported medical history of hypertension, chronic alcoholism, drug abuse (not otherwise specified), and seizures (not otherwise specified)," according to the report.
Tests of Huff's blood were negative for ethyl alcohol and revealed a trace of Sertraline, an antidepressant. The examination also found possible indicators of liver or kidney disease, according to the report.
Sheriff Niles said the case has been referred to office's insurance carrier and attorneys. He said he was not going to comment on the suit on the advice of their attorneys.