Sheriff, county named in $3 million lawsuit
Posted: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 9:11 pm
By: Kevin Bowden, Staff Reporter
By KEVIN BOWDEN
A $3 million civil lawsuit has been filed against Obion County, the Obion County Sheriff’s Department and Sheriff Jerry Vastbinder by the family of a 32-year-old Union City man who died as a result of injuries he sustained while jailed at the Obion County Law Enforcement Complex in January 2010.
Vastbinder actually served the lawsuit papers on himself early Tuesday and provided a copy of the lawsuit to county attorney Steve Conley Tuesday afternoon.
The lawsuit was filed by the family of Bruce Evan Williams.
Listed as the plaintiffs on the 12-page lawsuit are Ashley Wright, Raegan K. Wright and Madison N. Williams. Ms. Wright is listed as the parent and guardian of the late Williams’ two children.
The case will be heard in Obion County Circuit Court by Judge Bill Acree.
Conley explained he will not represent the county in the lawsuit and that the county’s insurance carrier will actually appoint an attorney to represent the county. The appointed attorney is expected to come from Jackson.
There are two counts listed in the lawsuit, both of which refer to a series of events that allegedly occurred from Jan. 22 until Williams’ death around 8 a.m. Jan. 24, 2010, at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital.
Under Count I, the lawsuit states Williams was arrested by the Obion County Sheriff’s Department Jan. 22, 2010, after being involved in a vehicle crash.
That crash occurred on Highway 51 near the entrance to Obion County Central High School in Troy.
“On that date, Bruce Williams was involved in a motor vehicle accident, and found to be intoxicated and/or under the influence of narcotics,” the lawsuit states in part. “Due to obvious physical injuries, Williams was transported by ambulance to Baptist Memorial Hospital in Union City, Tennessee.”
The lawsuit further claims that at the time of Williams’ transport to the local hospital he was “in the custody of and under the control of the Obion County Sheriff’s Department” and states, “While being transported, Williams expressed to emergency transport personnel that he wanted to kill himself.”
The lawsuit provides a detailed chronological account of the events involving Williams’ transport to the local hospital and his release from the hospital into the custody of the local sheriff’s department.
Count 1 of the lawsuit alleges Williams expressed to the hospital’s medical staff that he wanted to kill himself.
“An emergency room physician, Dr. Teresa Ferguson, determined that Williams needed to be placed on suicide precautions and provided a ‘psych consult, per procedure.’ Dr. Ferguson transferred Mr. Williams to the medical care of Dr. James Crabb. Dr. Crabb confirmed that Mr. Williams had expressed suicidal ideations to the hospital staff,” the lawsuit states in part. “Dr. Crabb nevertheless failed to order the requested psychiatric consultation and discharged Williams to the custody of the Obion County Sheriff’s Department and the Obion County Jail without any treatment for his suicidal ideations or tendencies, depression, anxiety or any and all other mental health concerns.”
Count 1 of the lawsuit further states Williams was transferred to the local jail during the evening of Jan. 22 and remained there “until the early morning hours of January 24, 2010, when he was discovered in his cell after having attempted suicide by hanging.”
The lawsuit claims the jail failed to conduct supervisory checks on Williams, allowed him access to the material he used to hang himself, failed to follow policies and procedures for a suicidal prisoner, and failed to identify and respond to Williams’ suicidal tendencies.
“Sometime in the late evening hours of January 23, 2010, or early morning hours of January 24, 2010, Williams was found hanging in his cell,” the lawsuit states in part. “Williams was then removed to Baptist Memorial Hospital where he was found to have a pulse but presumed brain dead. Williams had suffered anoxic brain injury; he was transferred to Jackson General Hospital and pronounced dead around 8 a.m. January 24, 2010.”
“It is well settled under Tennessee law that jail officials and officers, as well as governmental entities charged with the responsibility of operating the jail, have a duty to exercise ordinary and reasonable care for the protection of persons in custody,” Count 2 of the lawsuit states in part.
“The defendants, including Obion County Sheriff’s Department, violated the acceptable standards of care for the prevention of suicide in high risk inmates,” the lawsuit states. “The defendants’ failure to implement reasonable measures for the protection of Mr. Williams was a direct and proximate cause of his suicide.”
Published in The Messenger 1.26.11