A daughter of a woman who died in the Pulaski County jail in December 2016 after jailers and nurses refused to let her use her asthma inhaler has filed a federal wrongful-death lawsuit against them, the county and the jail's contract medical provider, Turn Key Health Clinics.
The Dec. 14, 2016 death of 41-year-old Sharon Lavette Alexander of Little Rock occurred two weeks after the jail turned over its medical operations to Turn Key, based in Oklahoma City. It also led the jail to change its policy on inmate property, specifically asthma inhalers, Sheriff Doc Holladay said last year.
According to the lawsuit, filed by Little Rock attorney Austin Porter Jr. on behalf of Porcha Alexander, the administrator of her mother's estate, an autopsy performed at the state Crime Laboratory determined that Sharon Alexander died of acute asthma exacerbation.
The death occurred the day after Sharon Alexander was booked into the jail after her arrest on accusations of shoplifting at a Target store in North Little Rock. The charge, a misdemeanor, was upgraded to a felony robbery charge after a store employee told police Alexander struggled with him as she tried to leave with $234 worth of clothing.
"She basically received the death penalty for shoplifting," Porter said Friday.
The lawsuit seeks monetary damages, including punitive damages, on behalf of Sharon Alexander's widower, Glenroy Charles; their son, Chacall Charles; Porcha and the woman's four other daughters; and Sharon Alexander's mother, Linda Alexander.
The incident at the store occurred about 7:20 p.m., and resulted in Alexander being booked into the county jail at 8:25 p.m., according to the lawsuit. She was assigned a court appearance for 8:30 a.m. the next day, though Porter said Friday that he's not sure if she went to court as scheduled.
Alexander filled out a detainee information sheet upon her admission, stating she was disabled and suffered from sickle cell anemia, "chronic asthma" and rheumatoid arthritis, according to the lawsuit. It says jail documents show that jailers confiscated a Ventolin inhaler from her during the book-in process and stored it, while placing her in a holding cell. A nurse checked her oxygen levels that night and found them satisfactory, it notes.
But at 11:15 a.m. on Dec. 14, 2016, Alexander had to be assisted down a flight of stairs by three fellow inmates, Deputy Eddie Turner noted. According to the lawsuit, he said he grabbed a chair for Alexander, who was shaking and told him she had been throwing up. He then contacted the infirmary, spoke with a nurse and was told someone would be down to check on Alexander. At 11:45 a.m., a licensed practical nurse, Linda McCraw, arrived, the suit states.
But according to Turner, McCraw told him she wasn't there in response to his call, the suit states. It says that when he told her that Alexander had complained of being cold and throwing up, McCraw told him there was nothing she could do and that the woman needed to leave a "sick call" request in a box and someone would check her the next day.
The other inmates helped Alexander back up the stairs, and one of them wrote out a "sick call" request for her that said she needed her asthma pump and her medicine "ASAP," according to the suit.
That same morning, Alexander talked to her husband by phone and told him that jailers wouldn't let her have her asthma pump, it says. Charles then contacted the jail and offered to take an asthma pump to the jail, but he was told that she "will be given what she needs," according to the suit.
At 6:45 p.m., Sharon Alexander spoke to her husband again, "telling him that she has not gotten her asthma pump, and that she did not believe that she was going to make it," the lawsuit alleges.
Another inmate who was in the same cell as Alexander began banging on the cell door when she noticed Alexander convulsing, the lawsuit says. But it says the deputy whose attention the inmate was trying to get, Jacketha Lattimore, ignored the banging for several minutes. When she finally went to the women's cell, she found Alexander in "distress."
Lattimore declared a "medical emergency" at 7:58 p.m., but lifesaving efforts by paramedics and Fire Department employees failed, and Alexander was pronounced dead at UAMS Medical Center at 11:02 p.m., according to the suit.
The lawsuit names Turner and Lattimore, as well as Turn Key and McCraw, alleging civil-rights violations and medical malpractice, as well as "deliberate indifference" to Alexander and gross negligence.
Lt. Cody Burk, a spokesman for the sheriff's office, said Friday that the death was "a big factor" in the office's changed policy on inmate property, specifically asthma inhalers.
The old policy instructed deputies to take an inmate's inhaler and examine it for drugs and other contraband within 24 hours.
Holladay said last year that the new policy instructs deputies to immediately inspect an inmate's inhaler and return the device if no contraband is found.
A woman who answered the phone at Turn Key's Oklahoma City headquarters Friday said she would have someone else return a reporter's call, but no call was ever returned.
The lawsuit was assigned to Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Miller.
Metro on 01/20/2018
Print Headline: Asthma fatality in lockup draws suit