Canyon County

Canyon County settles inmate death lawsuit

The Canyon County Jail disciplinary unit. The sheriff’s office, which runs the jail, has capped its populatoin and made changes in training and procedures in response to several lawsuits on behalf of inmates in recent years.
The Canyon County Jail disciplinary unit. The sheriff’s office, which runs the jail, has capped its populatoin and made changes in training and procedures in response to several lawsuits on behalf of inmates in recent years. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

Canyon County and the estate of an inmate who died in the county jail have settled a lawsuit that blamed the death on negligence.

Alfred “Jeri” Young, 46, a student and employee at Boise State University, was found unresponsive in a holding cell on April 3, 2014. Deputies transported Young to a Caldwell hospital. He never regained consciousness.

Herman Donald Tiller Jr., a friend of Young’s and a representative of his estate, sued the county in October 2015, alleging that jail employees ignored Young’s numerous requests for medical care, which led to his death.

The county said Young died from pneumonia, and employees believed they were dealing with other medical conditions.

Under the settlement, Canyon County agreed to pay Young’s estate $95,000 and to conduct an internal audit/training session regarding what went wrong in the Young case within six months, said Tiller’s attorney, Craig Durham.

“This resolution, though not perfect, brings some measure of justice for Jeri,” Durham said Thursday.

The county’s attorney, Michael Kane, said employees did not realize that Young suffered from pneumonia associated with HIV.

“Unfortunately, pneumonia is a ravaging disease for HIV patients,” Kane said in an email Thursday. “Because Alfred’s symptoms did not at first match the classic symptoms of pneumonia, the jail medical staff believed they were dealing with other medical issues Alfred was known to have. For reasons known only to Alfred, he refused to allow the staff access to his personal medical files, so this compounded the problem.

“Would it have made a difference if the staff realized Alfred had pneumonia a few hours earlier? We will never know. But what we do know is that they did their best for him.

“We had a choice. The parties could spend two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars arguing about the matter in court, or we could come together to work toward a responsible settlement to provide closure to the medical staff and the family.”

Chief U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill dismissed the case May 19.

According to the lawsuit:

Young lived in Canyon County and was working on his master’s degree at Boise State, where he had a job in the Extended Studies Department. He was on probation and participating in drug court after his third DUI conviction, which he received in Nampa in 2011.

After a relapse, his probationary officer sent him to the Caldwell jail in February 2014 for violating his probation. He developed a respiratory infection. Over three weeks, Young asked several times to be seen by a health care provider for breathing difficulties, nausea, headaches, bloody vomit and other problems. Nothing was done.

On April 3, inmates alerted deputies that Young was having serious difficulty breathing and was having chest pain. Young was examined by a jail nurse, who noted on a medical chart that Young’s pain was “10” on a scale of 1 to 10 and placed Young in a holding cell for “further assessment.”

Later that morning, a jail employee examined Young, noted that he did not appear to be in “acute distress,” and sent him back to his unit. Later that day, Young was brought to a medical-exam room in a wheelchair with extreme chest pain. The nurse on duty wrote that his vital signs were within normal limits and did not indicate “pain or acute distress.” He was placed in a holding cell to await later examination. No one checked on him for four hours.

“When they finally did, he was lying unresponsive on a bed and facing the wall,” the lawsuit said. “Rather than call an ambulance, deputies loaded Young in a van and drove him to West Valley Medical Center ‘for further assessment.’ He was never seen by a doctor at the jail.”

Upon Young’s arrival at West Valley, physicians noted that his situation was “dire.” He was comatose and put on life support.

Young never regained consciousness. At the request of his family, he was taken off life support April 6. He died that day.

“One of the doctors at West Valley informed family and friends that if Mr. Young had been brought in sooner, he likely would have survived,” according to the complaint.

Young was also one of the inmate plaintiffs in a 2011 lawsuit against Canyon County. The American Civil Liberties Union sued Canyon County on behalf of Young, Lorraine Scott and any other affected inmates who said jail officers retaliated against them for complaining about jail conditions, according to the complaint.

Young said in that complaint that even though he was 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 because of food allergies, and that the jail’s medical staff doubled his medication, causing a severe reaction for which he did not receive treatment.

The county settled that case by agreeing to change its inmate-grievance process and to require jail staff to undergo retaliation/discrimination training. The case was dismissed in 2013.

The ACLU also sued in 2009, alleging overcrowding and unhealthy conditions at the jail. The county settled that case through a consent decree that put the jail under federal court oversight and placed conditions on the jail, including weekly reporting of jail conditions and a cap on the number of inmates.

In May, the ACLU and county agreed the county had reached “substantial compliance” with the court order and court jurisdiction was no longer needed. A judge then dismissed the case.

Cynthia Sewell: 208-377-6428, @CynthiaSewell

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