By DAN REYNOLDS, senior editor of Risk & Insurance®
Attorneys for Richard and Shelagh McEvoy, residents of Chelmsford, Mass., allege that James O'Mara, the superintendent of the Hillsborough County House of Corrections, and numerous other county defendants failed to provide proper medical treatment for their son Kevin McEvoy, a now-deceased, self-described heroin addict who was arrested in New Hampshire on Aug. 21, 2008, on a charge of receiving stolen property.
According to the complaint filed Dec. 14 in U.S. District Court in
Concord, N.H., Kevin McEvoy died of severe dehydration and underlying medical conditions while incarcerated under the care of the Hillsborough County House of Corrections, in lieu of a $3,000 bail.
The complaint states that Hillsborough County correctional officers failed to provide enough water and medical attention for McEvoy. While in his Hillsborough County jail cell, McEvoy underwent heroin withdrawal and vomited repeatedly, which caused dehydration and acute kidney failure.
"Specifically, the defendants breached the applicable standard of care by, among other things, failing to properly monitor Kevin McEvoy, who was suffering from significant heroin withdrawal symptoms, failing to ensure adequate fluid intake and failing to refer Kevin McEvoy to a facility where he would receive appropriate treatment," the complaint states.
According to a copy of a coroner's report that was included in the federal court filing, McEvoy, 24, died as a result of "cardiovascular collapse due to severe dehydration with acute renal failure due to protracted vomiting with inadequate volume replacement."
The complaint also alleges that the Hillsborough County House of Corrections has had numerous prior complaints involving "inadequate medical care and attention to inmates, including inadequate care given during drug withdrawal."
John Curran, the attorney representing Hillsborough County, did not return calls requesting comment.
But a law enforcement risk management expert pointed to an environment in which law enforcement and correctional officers need to be increasingly on the lookout for citizens who are either at risk of dying from a drug overdose or being under the influence while being arrested or incarcerated.
Michael Brave, president of LAAW International Inc. and an attorney and former police officer, cited Bureau of Justice statistics that show that both arrest-related deaths and deaths from drug use are on the rise nationally.
In 2003, according to those statistics, 627 arrest-related deaths occurred from all causes. In 2006, those statistics show, there were 710 such deaths, an increase of more than 13 percent.
U.S. drug deaths show an alarming increase between 2000 and 2006, from 19,720 in 2000 to 38,396 in 2006, an increase of more than 94 percent.
In clearing the necessary risk management hurdles, Brave said, law enforcement has to swallow the fact that a drug abuser may mar their health, but that law enforcement has to be above reproach once that person is in their custody.
"While a person may have invested years in negative life-style choices of committing crimes, using drugs, engaging in health-hazardous activities, etc., once officers deal with this self-induced psychologically fragile person, some people will attempt to hold the officers to a perfection standard, and anything negative that happens or if there is a negative outcome there will likely be civil litigation," Brave said.
January 8, 2010
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