Sacramento, California: The Firm obtained a $1.45 Million settlement in the death of a 27 year-old inmate who suffered from a perforated duodenal peptic ulcer, while in the custody of the Sacramento County Sheriffs Department.
Suit settled for $1.5M in gay inmate's death
(Bay Area Reporter) The mother of a 27-year-old gay
man who died in a Sacramento jail recently settled a wrongful death lawsuit
with the county for $1.45 million.
William Sams, whom a jail document
had once pegged as "flamboyant," died from a perforated duodenal
peptic ulcer in June 2006, days after being arrested for possession of cocaine,
according to court documents on behalf of the plaintiff.
Since Sams's death, staffing
levels and training have been improved, according to a jail health official.
The county paid the amount to
Marilee Ann Hewitt, Sams's mother, earlier this month.
According to the court documents,
on June 7, 2006, Sacramento police arrested Sams for possessing "a small
amount" of cocaine. An ambulance brought him to the University of
California, Davis Medical Center because he had passed out and had been
"difficult to arouse."
Before he received treatment at
the medical center, though, Sams was taken to Sacramento County Main Jail,
according to court documents. The sheriff's department noted that he was under
the influence of "cocaine/meth." Sams was found medically fit to be
admitted to the jail.
Sams denied having any psychiatric
or other medical problems, but within days, he was dying a slow, painful death.
On June 13, 2006, Sams told
nursing staff that he was constipated and was having stomach problems –
"like some burning coming up my throat," he said. He was assessed as
having gastro esophageal reflux disease, and a nurse called for him to get Milk
of Magnesia and increase his fluid intake.
Sams came back at about 3:45 p.m.
the next day and said the treatment wasn't working. He was referred to Dr.
Tamara Robinson, who found Sams to be in "severe abdominal pain."
Sams told Robinson that he needed
to go to the hospital, and the doctor believed his accounts of severe pain and
vomiting, but on his chart she noted that Sams was "histrionic" and
"hyperventilating," and sweating profusely.
Robinson held Sams for observation
and prescribed Maalox and other medications. Sams eventually reported that
wasn't working, either, and that he'd been vomiting. The court documents say
he'd been sitting on the bed crying.
Instead of pursuing urgent
testing, Robinson prescribed medications for anxiety and ordered some
non-urgent tests related to Sams's abdominal condition. She sent him back to
the general population with a referral for a "psyche consult."
Soon after, Sams complained that
he was vomiting blood and he requested urgent medical care, but medical staff
refused to see Sams until the next morning.
Around midnight, June 15, medical
staff agreed to see Sams, who had been "begging for medical
attention." His skin was cold, and he was perspiring at the top of his
Sams also had a high respiratory
rate and a low body temperature, which were among the indicators that Sams was
in shock and needed emergency medical care, according to the court documents.
Dr. William G. Douglas, the night
shift telephone on-call doctor, who was at home, twice told a nurse who had
called him to admit Sams into the jail's medical unit, and said that Sams
didn't need to go to the hospital.
A physician wasn't scheduled to
arrive at the jail until 7 a.m.
By 4:05 a.m., Sams, who by then
had reported having seizures, was "crunched over and holding his
mid-section," according to the documents.
Approximately 20 minutes later,
deputies realized that Sams didn't appear to be breathing. A nurse initiated
CPR, and an ambulance came, but at about 4:39 a.m., Sams was pronounced dead.
Hewitt, Sams's mother, declined a
request for an interview through attorney Peter C. Grenier.
"Obviously, you can never put a price on human
life," Grenier said. "Perhaps what was most satisfying was the
implicit acknowledgment of wrongdoing in the form of an agreement to pay such
Through a spokesman, Sacramento
County Sheriff John McGinness, a defendant in the suit, referred questions
about the case to Van Longyear.
The documents filed on Hewitt's behalf say that Sams had
been classified at the jail as an "Overbearing/flamboyant
But Longyear, the attorney who
represented the county and most of the other defendants in the case, said that
Sams wasn't classified as overbearing or flamboyant, and he wasn't sure if
those were the exact words used. He said that Sams was classified as someone
who required protective custody, and the offensive terms were used in a
The words were
"inappropriate" and not a description that the jail condones, said Longyear.
He said that notation had been
made previously at Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center, another county facility,
not at the main jail. He said the notation might potentially have been made
because of Sams's "mannerisms."
He said that Sams had been incarcerated
"numerous times" before, primarily for drug-related offenses. Records
from the Superior Court in Sacramento indicate Sams had previously been charged
with offenses related to possession of drug paraphernalia and theft, among
other charges – many of which were dismissed.
Longyear said a "relatively
small" percentage of prisoners are classified for protective custody.
Besides being gay, other reasons prisoners might be placed in protective
custody are if they're a police officer or a well-known public figure.
He said Sams's orientation
potentially put him at risk for attack by other inmates.
Asked if the jail had had problems
with gays being attacked before, Longyear said they had not.
Classification staff are trained
to make notations that would be helpful in protecting staff and the prisoners,
AnnMarie Boylan, chief of
correctional health services, is responsible for managing the delivery of
medical and mental health services to county jail inmates. Boylan, who's been in
the job since January 2007 – months after Sams's death –
acknowledged "there were things that didn't happen" appropriately in
the Sams case.
Douglas, who was eventually
terminated, and Robinson, whom Boylan said left the jail job voluntarily, were
both among the defendants in the suit, but could not be reached for comment.
Boylan said her department has
conducted "a thorough investigation" to determine what led to Sams's
death and made changes related to assessment, nurse training, and triage
procedures, better staffing levels, and they've decreased medical-based
However, she said the changes
could be jeopardized by financial problems.
Correctional Health Services
requested about $26 million in funding from the county, but they received approximately
$17 million, according to Zeke Holst, public information officer for Sacramento
County. Holst noted cuts have been made to all social services in the county.