Lawsuit seeks $1 million in county inmate’s 2008 death

From The Portland Tribune, Dec 31, 2009

Nearly two years after 36-year-old Holly Jean Casey died in the fetal position on the floor of a Multnomah County Detention Center cell, her legal representative is suing the county, its jail health service and 11 others for $1 million.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday, Dec. 31, in U.S. District Court says Casey’s jailers and health care staff failed to give her adequate care or answer her pleas for help during several hours of Jan. 3 and 4, 2008, as she slowly died from lobar pneumonia. It claims the county, the jail guards and the medical staff violated Casey’s constitutional due process rights.

The lawsuit was filed by Alice A. Wheeler, who represents Casey’s estate. Besides the county, the lawsuit’s defendants included Maxim Healthcare Services Inc., which provides care at the jail and detention center, several staff members and 14 “John and Jane Does” who were not identified. Their names could be added to the lawsuit later.

The county does not comment on legal action.

Because of the holiday weekend, no one was available from Maxim Healthcare Services to comment on the lawsuit.

Casey died sometime around 7:30 a.m. Jan. 4, about 17 hours after she had been arrested by Portland police officers on a warrant for failing to appear on a second-degree theft charge. According to the lawsuit, Casey sought medical help for hours and, after being checked a couple of times, was ignored by guards and other staff.

“For hours, at least 20 inmates in Module 8 heard Casey’s frantic cries and screams for help as the jail guards and medical staff ignored Casey’s attempts to obtain medical assistance,” according to the lawsuit filed by Portland attorney Hala J. Gores. “Many inmates heard Casey yelling, ‘Help me, help me, I can’t breathe.’ Many inmates heard the sound of the buzzer for hours, which was ignored by guards. At least two inmates pushed their own call buttons to summon help for Casey. They were ignored.”

Casey was homeless and addicted to heroin. Her spleen had been removed, making her more susceptible to infection. She recently had a bout with pneumonia, and told the arresting officers she was on her way to the hospital for treatment when she was taken into custody.

An investigation by the Multnomah County district attorney’s office into Casey’s death and the death of another inmate reported that “no single person or persons can be held liable” for their deaths.