Lawsuit alleges negligence toward mentally ill inmates
The sister of a former Columbia County Jail inmate has filed a lawsuit against the county for allegedly failing to provide adequate care for a mentally ill inmate.
The lawsuit, filed April 15, alleges that the former Columbia County sheriff, Jeff Dickerson, "failed to properly train corrections deputies how to interact with and attend to mentally ill inmates."
"The result is that mentally ill inmates are punished for behaviors which are nothing more than symptoms of mental illness. These punishments include the use of tasers, stun shields, and even dog bites," the plaintiff's attorney, John E. Gutbezahl, wrote in the filing.
The suit was filed in federal court by Gutbezahl, an attorney for Michelle Bolden. Bolden is the sister and legal guardian William Derby, a mentally ill former inmate at the Columbia County Jail.
The lawsuit alleges the defendants were negligent and violated Derby's rights under the eighth and 14th amendments, which bar cruel and unusual punishment and call for equal protection under the law. The suit also alleges that Columbia County violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act.
Derby was subjected to "deliberate indifference to serious medical need" by Columbia Community Mental Health, Legacy Health and Unity Center for Behavioral Health, and employees of the jail's contracted medical services provider Correct Care Solutions, according to the lawsuit. The defendants were aware of Derby's "severe psychiatric disability" and "serious medical need," but did not address it in any way, according to the lawsuit.
Derby entered Columbia County Jail custody "as a functional person who could walk and talk and converse with others," according to the lawsuit, but his mental health deteriorated throughout his stay. After he was released from jail custody, he was sent to Unity Center.
In April 2017, after he was released from Unity Center, Derby attempted to murder his mother. He was again sent to the Columbia County Jail, where he later attempted suicide with a razor. Once Derby was sent to the Oregon State Hospital and provided treatment and medication, his condition improved.
Former Sheriff Dickerson was also named as a defendant. The lawsuit places blame on Dickerson for failing to train deputies "so that they will have a basic understanding of mental illness and will not punish mentally ill inmates for their symptoms." Dickerson retired in June 2018, months before the end of his third term.
Correct Care Solutions provides medical services in jails and prisons across the country, including the Columbia County Jail. Three CCS employees who worked in the jail at the time addressed in the lawsuit were also named as defendants: medical director Vivek Shah, behavioral health manager Julie Weigand, and nurse Terry Kallio.
Over the past decade, more than 1,000 lawsuits have been filed against CCS and its subsidiaries, according to the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight.
Capt. Tony Weaver, the current jail commander, confirmed that CCS is still the jail's medical service provider, but could not confirm if the defendants named in the suit are still employed by CCS. CCS did not respond to questions about if those
three employees still work within the Columbia County Jail.
In recent years, the Columbia County Jail has faced numerous allegations of mistreating mentally ill inmates. The most high-profile, in which deputies used a dog to extract an inmate from his cell, resulted in a $250,000 settlement to the former inmate. Following reporting on the incident, the state senate passed SB495, which prohibits the use of dogs to extract jail or prison inmates from their cells. The bill is now in a House committee.
Legacy Health, Legacy Emanuel Hospital and Health Center, and Unity Center for Behavioral Health, were
also named as defendants. Unity Center was the subject of a 2018 state investigation that found inadequate
medical care put patients at risk.
Weaver, current Columbia County Sheriff Brian Pixley, CCMH executive director Julia Jackson, a spokesperson for Columbia County, and a spokesperson for CCS all
said they were unable to comment on the pending litigation.
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