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Washington County jail officials, doctor deny wrongdoing in ivermectin lawsuit

by Ron Wood | February 2, 2022 at 7:25 a.m.
The Washington County Sheriff's Office and the Washington County Detention Center is seen Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, in Fayetteville. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

FAYETTEVILLE -- Washington County jail officials and a jail doctor have filed an answer generally denying allegations in a federal lawsuit claiming detainees were given ivermectin for covid-19 while in the jail.

Defendants include Tim Helder, in his official capacity as sheriff; Karas Correctional Health; Dr. Robert Karas; and the Washington County Detention Center.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas filed the federal lawsuit last month. Several detainees contend they were unknowingly given ivermectin at the jail without being told the nature, contents or potential side effects of the drug. The lawsuit says they were told the treatment consisted of "vitamins," "antibiotics," and/or "steroids."

The lawsuit contends detainees were given ivermectin as early as November 2020 and didn't become aware of what the treatment was until July. Helder told the Quorum Court's Finance and Budget Committee in August that Karas Correctional Health had been prescribing ivermectin as a treatment at the jail, according to the ACLU.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn't approved ivermectin for use in treating nor preventing covid-19 in humans, according to the lawsuit. It's approved to treat some parasitic worms, head lice and skin conditions, but isn't an antiviral drug.

Under Arkansas law, medical providers have a legal duty to warn a patient of potential hazards of future medical treatment, according to the lawsuit.

Plaintiffs in the case include Edrick Floreal-Wooten, Jeremiah Little, Julio Gonzales and Dayman Blackburn, who were housed in a quarantine block at the jail. The lawsuit says the group was given inappropriately high doses of ivermectin.

In their answer, an attorney for Helder, Karas, the clinic and jail, contend they are entitled to several forms of legal immunity from being sued, including statutory and qualified immunity and tort and negligence immunity.

They also say the claims may be moot to the extent some of the plaintiffs are no longer in jail or the statute of limitations may have run out.

The answer also contends there can be no constitutional violation or deliberate indifference because physicians are permitted to exercise medical judgment in the treatment of inmates.

Floreal-Wooten said in August he contracted covid in the jail while serving 90 days on a parole violation. He and other detainees refused to take the treatments offered to them at the jail after learning they contained ivermectin, he said.

Helder said in late August he only learned after the fact ivermectin was used in the jail and he wouldn't second-guess or override the decisions of medical staff.

Chief Deputy Jay Cantrell said medical treatment for detainees is done on a voluntary basis, including any treatment offered for covid-19.

Qualified immunity

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A type of legal immunity. Specifically, qualified immunity protects a government official from lawsuits alleging that the official violated a plaintiff’s rights, only allowing suits where officials violated a “clearly established” statutory or constitutional right.

Source: Legal Information Institute


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