Former inmate files lawsuit over medical care at jail

By AUTUMN HUGHES
Posted 9/23/18

A former inmate of the Bradley County Jail has filed a class action lawsuit against Bradley County, former sheriff Eric Watson and three other Bradley County Sheriff’s Office employees. The complaint centers on medical care offered to inmates at the jail, but also includes claims related to prisoner deaths, jail overcrowding, failure of jail inspections and funding for medical care, among others.

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Former inmate files lawsuit over medical care at jail

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A former inmate of the Bradley County Jail has filed a class action lawsuit against Bradley County, former Sheriff Eric Watson and three other Bradley County Sheriff’s Office employees. The complaint centers on medical care offered to inmates at the jail, but also includes claims related to prisoner deaths, jail overcrowding, failure of jail inspections and funding for medical care, among others.

The lawsuit was filed on Sept. 18 in Chattanooga’s U.S. District Court on behalf of Darrell Eden “and all others similarly situated.” The plaintiff and members of the putative class “are current and former inmates or pretrial detainees of the Bradley County Justice Center, who were or could be denied constitutionally adequate medical care by the BCSO specifically, and Bradley County more generally.”

The defendants in the suit are Bradley County, former Sheriff Eric Watson, BCSO Support Services Division Capt. Gabe Thomas, an unidentified male BSCO officer and an unidentified BCSO female officer. Watson, Thomas, “John Doe” and “Jane Doe” are all named in both their official and individual capacities.

According to the legal filing, Eden is pursuing litigation “to enforce his rights – and those of the putative class (current and former inmates or pretrial detainees of the Bradley County Justice Center) … – under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution…” for gross negligence, ordinary negligence (on various bases) and punitive damages.

The legal filing claims in recent years medical care has often “(1) simply not been made available to inmates at all, and (2) when offered, been so patently deficient as to violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.” In addition, the legal filing claims “BCSO officials have routinely disregarded known and unjustifiable risks of serious harm, both in the medical context and otherwise” to inmates who “routinely endured significant – even life-threatening – injuries while confined in the jail or in the custody of BCSO, some of which resulted in further injury or death.”

Calling medical care offered to inmates at the jail as “woefully inadequate,” the legal filing noted “numerous prisoner deaths and dozens of lawsuits, many of which have resulted in settlements;” the “repeated failure of state jail certification inspections” for reasons including overcrowding and the provision of medical care; and county leaders, including the county mayor and Bradley County Commission, failing “to take corrective action” to address deficiencies and permitted the deficiencies to continue.

In the legal filing, Eden is listed as a Chattanooga resident who is a former pretrial detainee booked into the jail on or about Sept. 20, 2017, on a charge of driving under the influence, in connection with a car accident. The charge was subsequently dismissed. The lawsuit claims Eden “was unconstitutionally denied medical care at the Jail…”

Eden allegedly has a “significant medical/surgical history and a number of current serious health problems … (that) are very challenging for Mr. Eden and make many activities of daily living difficult. Despite his impairments, Mr. Eden is employed full-time in the health-care industry” as an X-ray technologist in Cleveland.

According to the legal filing, on the evening of Sept. 19, 2017, Eden “consumed Ambien and a small amount of alcohol because he had difficulty sleeping.” The next morning, after preparing breakfast for himself and his wife, Eden drove to work at a speed of approximately 70 mph.

“…Mr. Eden fell asleep and hit a concrete wall on White Oak Mountain on I-75 in Bradley County,” the filing stated. In the crash, he broke a finger on his right hand, his left ankle, and seven ribs, two of which were displaced fractures; he “also likely suffered a concussion.”

The legal filing states that no one at the jail performed a medical screening or completed a medical intake form (per BCSO policy) upon Eden’s arriving in booking. “In addition … no BCSO corrections deputies informed the shift lieutenant of Mr. Eden’s obvious injuries” as required by BCSO policy.

The “John Doe” deputy allegedly told Eden he would be evaluated by a medical team, but he was not. The “Jane Doe” deputy allegedly ignored Eden when he asked when a medical team would arrive to evaluate him.

When Eden’s wife was able to bond him out of jail, she drove him to Erlanger East Hospital. “At that point, he was coughing up blood and was admitted immediately,” the legal filing stated. He was later transferred to Baroness Erlanger Emergency Department where he was diagnosed with bilateral rib fractured and left ankle fracture, and was administered morphine. Eden was later diagnosed with a fractured finger. After being released from Erlanger, Eden was treated at Health South Rehab for 10-14 days.

No dollar amount was listed in the legal filing, but relief in the form of “an award to each plaintiff class member of compensatory damages in an amount to be proved at trial,” as well as punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and other costs, including “an award to plaintiff and Inmate Class members of all such further relief as the Court may deem just and proper.”

Bradley County Attorney Crystal Freiberg, contacted by phone by the Cleveland Daily Banner on Friday afternoon, said she could not comment on the matter.

“I have not seen it and have not received a copy of it in any way,” Freiberg said of the lawsuit.

Reiterating she could not comment on the filing, Freiberg could not confirm if this is the first class action lawsuit filed against Bradley County, the former sheriff, or BCSO.

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