Court Indignant After Alcoholic’s Death in Jail

     (CN) – Two officers who did not notice a woman suffer four alcoholic seizures before she died in a jail cell are not entitled to qualified immunity, the Sixth Circuit ruled.
     The decision released Tuesday from the federal appeals court in Cincinnati gives a bleak recitation of Lisa Kindl’s final hours on July 12, 2010.
     Berkley, Mich., police had arrested the woman that day after she admitted in a meeting with her probation officer to having consumed vodka the night before.
     Kindl’s probation was conditioned on staying away from alcohol, and her blood alcohol content measured at 0.053.
     Jail video of Kindl’s booking shows the woman warning Officer Geary that she “might have a little alcohol withdrawal,” the ruling notes.
     When his shift ended, Geary says he told his replacement, Officer Kent Herriman, of Kindl’s comment about suffering from alcohol withdrawal. Herriman denies learning of Kindl’s condition at this time.
     Video footage of Kindl’s cell shows that she suffered a 30-second seizure, just after the shift change at approximately 7:46 p.m., during which her entire body jerked dramatically.
     Just after 8 p.m., the video shows Kindl trying to get the attention of the officers, and it is clear that she urinated on herself. Kindl repeatedly called out, and knocked on the monitoring window to get Herriman’s attention.
     She eventually spoke to Herriman and Officer Michael Moschelli, but there is no audio recording of the conversation. The officers testified that Kindl denied having symptoms of delirium tremens, a severe form of alcohol withdrawal, but asked them to keep an eye on her.
     Kindl had another seizure at 8:34 p.m., and another at 10:25 p.m. that caused her to fall off the cement bench onto the floor. Afterward, she sat on the bench with a blanket wrapped around her, appeared to speak, and looked repeatedly at the monitoring window.
     At 11:53 p.m., Kindl experienced a fourth seizure that lasted for approximately 40 seconds. When the seizure ended, she was lying on her stomach with her arms above the blanket at odd angles.
     The precise time of her death is unknown, but Kindl did not move again after the fourth seizure. Officer Herriman found her corpse six hours later in the same position.
     A forensic pathologist testified that Kindle died of DTs.
     Kindl’s daughter is suing Berkley and the jail guards for gross negligence, but both Herriman and Moschelli testified that they never saw Kindl have a seizure, or exhibit any signs of physical duress.
     A federal judge denied the men qualified immunity, and the Sixth Circuit upheld the ruling Tuesday.
     “Defendants’ principal arguments regarding qualified immunity reduce merely to a factual contention that Plaintiff cannot prove that they should have known of, much less that they were in fact aware of, Kindl’s serious medical need,” Judge Eric Clay wrote for the three-person appellate panel.
     Though the ruling turns on the court’s lack of jurisdiction to consider those arguments, Clay also speaks to issues of fact that the case presents.
     “Incredibly, defendants also argue that Kindl did not have a serious condition entitling her to medical treatment – despite the undisputed evidence that her condition entailed incontinence and multiple seizures, and that it ultimately resulted in her death,” Clay said. “This argument is without merit.”
     The panel said there is no question that acute alcohol withdrawal is a serious medical condition for which a detainee has a right to receive medical treatment.
     “The cases [defendants] cite in aid of their appeal do not cast into doubt the seriousness of alcohol withdrawal as a medical condition, much less overcome the existence of evidence supporting the district court’s conclusion that plaintiff met her summary judgment burden in establishing that Kindl had a serious medical need,” the decision states. “Instead, each case cited by defendants discusses whether the particular evidence in the record was sufficient to show that the defendants ‘appreciated’ the detainee’s medical needs.”
     Whether or not the officers “appreciated” Kindl’s severe distress is for a jury to decide, the court concluded.
     Berkley, a suburb of Detroit, was just included in Money Magazine’s top 50 places to live at No. 28.

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