Canyon County Jail inmate's death raises questions

One of the inmate plaintiffs in the 2011 ACLU suit against Canyon County died last year while in the jail’s custody.

The ACLU sued Canyon County on behalf of inmates Jeri-Alfred Cook, then known as Alfred Young, and Lorraine Scott, and any other affected inmates who allege jail officers retaliated against them for complaining about jail conditions.

Cook alleged that despite being a model inmate with no disciplinary offenses, he was retaliated against for filing grievances that the jail failed to provide him a special diet he needed due to food allergies and the jail’s medical staff doubled his medication, causing a severe reaction for which he did not receive treatment.

According to the tort claim filed against the county in October 2014 by Cook’s sister and his domestic partner, Cook was on probation and participating in drug court after he received a third DUI conviction. In early March 2014 he was terminated from drug court and sent to jail by his probation officer to serve “discretionary time.” During his incarceration he developed a respiratory infection. He submitted requests to be seen by a health care provider, but nothing was done.

By the time Cook was finally transported to West Valley Medical Center on April 4, 2014, he was critically ill, comatose and put on life support. “A physician at the medical center informed a family member and friend that had Mr. Cook been taken to the hospital sooner, he could have survived. By the time he arrived, however, there was no hope for recovery,” according to the tort claim. Cook’s sister decided to discontinue life support and Cook died two days later.

“County officials wholly failed to treat Mr. Cook when he became ill with a respiratory infection in an environment that had inadequate ventilation and sanitation,” states the claim.

The ACLU referred any questions related to Cook’s death to attorneys Craig Durham and Deborah Ferguson, who are representing Cook’s estate in the potential wrongful death case.

The county did not formally respond to the tort claim, clearing the way for a wrongful death lawsuit to be filed, which Durham expects to do within weeks.

“We are more concerned with the lack of medical care that Cook received in April last year at the jail. There may be retaliatory elements to that because he complained in the past. We are exploring all those issues, but we definitely at this time believe he did not receive proper medical care,” Durham said. “By the time they took him to the hospital, it was too late.”