Federal lawsuit seeks millions after inmate dies at Washington County Jail
Madaline Pitkin died in her cell in 2014, but Washington County Sheriff's Office says it stands with Pitkin's family.
The family of a woman who died in the Washington County Jail is suing the county and the jail's medical provider, saying they allowed their daughter to die when they refused to treat her drug withdrawal symptoms.
Madaline Pitkin was found dead in her cell on April 28, 2014, after seven days in the Washington County Jail.
On Wednesday, Nov. 30, Pitkin's parents, Russell and Mary Pitkin, filed a $20 million federal lawsuit, claiming the county and the Washington County Jail's healthcare provider Corizon Health Inc. were indifferent to their daughter's obvious medical condition, and their inaction led to her death.
The lawsuit names Corizon, the nation's largest privately held prison healthcare contractor, as a defendant in the case, as well as Washington County and doctors and nurses employed at Corizon who were based at the jail at the time of Pitkin's death.
Washington County had contracted with Corizon for medical services since it opened the jail in 1998, but switched providers after Pitkins' death.
Pitkin was arrested by Tualatin police on April 16, 2014 for unlawful possession of heroin. She was booked into the Washington County Jail, where she stayed for seven days and eventually died.
According to the lawsuit, Pitkin told jail staff when she first arrived that she had injected herself with heroin the evening before and was experiencing withdrawal. A nurse told Pitkin that she would need to fill out a medical request form in order to communicate with the jail's medical staff.
Over the next seven days, Pitkin would submit at least four health care request forms seeking help, the lawsuit claims, but none ever resulted in an exam, evaluation or any other contact with medical staff.
According to the lawsuit, she submitted her first form at 3:30 p.m., April 19 — Pitkin's third full day in the jail.
"Heroin withdrawal," she wrote. "I told medical intake that I was detoxing & they said I was not yet sick enough to start meds. Now I am in full blown withdrawal and really need medical care. Please help!"
The following day, she submitted a second form.
"Detoxing from heroin REALLY bad," she wrote. "Can't keep food down. Heart beating so hard that I can't sleep."
By her fifth day in jail, April 21, Pitkin was unable to walk more than a few feet at a time, and would squat on the floor when waiting in line. She filled out her third healthcare request form that day, writing that she wasn't able to keep medication, food or liquids down.
"Can't sleep," she wrote. "Everything hurts. My stomach is sour and filled with bright green that I keep puking up, Muscles cramp and twitch. So weak. Cannot stand long, can't walk far without almost fainting. Feel near death."
No medical staff examined Pitkin, or took any action, the lawsuit claimed.
Pitkin filled out her final request form on April 23, the day before she died.
"I feel like I am very close to death," she wrote. "Can't hear, seeing lights, hearing voices. Please help me."
'I feel like I am very close to death'
Deputies at the jail were also concerned about Pitkin's health, according to the lawsuit. The day before Pitkin died, a deputy in the jail made multiple calls to medical staff asking that they examine Pitkin, according to the lawsuit.
According to Sgt. Bob Ray, a spokesman with the Washington County Sheriff's office, a deputy put Pitkin in a wheelchair and wheeled her to Corizon staff to get her treated that morning, desperate to get her some help.
Pitkin was placed in the jail's medical observation unit.
According to the lawsuit, Corizon's only doctor in the jail had been fired the day Pitkin was admitted to the medical observation unit. The jail would go without a doctor for several days.
The following morning, a jail deputy found Pitkin sweating profusely. The deputy asked a nurse to check on Pitkin's condition, but the nurse reportedly refused, saying they were busy with other inmates. By the time the nurse made it to Pitkin's cell some time later they found her lying on the floor, one arm twitching. Brown fluid leaked from her mouth and nose. Her eyes were open and her mouth was moving weakly.
Paramedics tried to resuscitate her, but she died at the scene.
County to file lawsuit
Pitkin's death was first detailed by The Oregonian earlier this year, chronicling what Pitkin went through in the days before her death.
Pitkin's death led to significant media attention, Ray said, which lead the agency to speak out against what happened.
"Normally when there is pending litigation we don't discuss the case," he told Pamplin Media Group on Thursday. "But in this case, we thought it was significant enough that we wanted to take time to give our response to the incident."
In a statement on Wednesday, the Sheriff's office said that Pitkin deserved better treatment than she received, which they blamed on Corizon.
"The Sheriff was shocked and dismayed to learn of Corizon's apparent lack of response to her written requests for medical help," the Sheriff's Office said.
Pitkin's death led to an investigation, which ultimately found no criminal wrongdoing, though the county did find that Corizon failed to staff the jail with a registered nurse 20 percent of the time they were required to.
Ray said the county stands with the family and plans to file its own lawsuit against Corizon.
Ray said there is no timeline for when the Sheriff's office plans to file its lawsuit, but said that he hoped the case would not have to go to trial.
"We're disappointed that they have not settled with the family yet," Ray said. "To bring them into court and force them to relive this is very traumatic for the family. We're disappointed with Corizon on several levels."
Corizon settled a lawsuit in a similar case in 2013 after an inmate died in the Lane County Jail. In that case, Corizon agreed to pay $7 million.
"Our deputies did the right thing, but their efforts were hampered by Corizon," Ray said. "We have to rely to a certain degree on our healthcare provider, but our deputies continually asked for medical care for her, as did Ms. Pitkin."
Five months after the county finished its investigation into Pitkin's death, the county found a new healthcare provider for its jail, NaphCare.
"Quite frankly, we couldn't be happier with NaphCare," Ray said. "There are checks and balances, down to just better record keeping and medical records … They are so much farther advanced, we couldn't be more pleased with them."
Corizon declined to comment, citing the lawsuit and patient privacy laws.
By Geoff Pursinger
Associate Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
Visit us on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter
Follow Geoff Pursinger at @ReporterGeoff