Guard Dodges Suit Over Inmate’s Fatal Condition | Courthouse News Service
Tuesday, November 28, 2023
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Tuesday, November 28, 2023 | Back issues
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Guard Dodges Suit Over Inmate’s Fatal Condition

(CN) - A corrections officer is not responsible for the brain hemorrhage that killed a hypertensive inmate halfway through a 10-day jail sentence, a federal judge ruled.

Douglas Poole arrived at the Virginia Beach Jail in October 2010 to serve a 10-day sentence for driving under a suspended license.

At that time, Poole told the jail infirmary that he suffered from diabetes and hypertension, and that he required certain prescriptions. His conditions were noted in the jail medical chart, and he was cleared to keep his prescriptions on his person.

But Poole was never given his hypertension medication.

Six days into his sentence, Poole reported to the jail infirmary in the morning and the afternoon. Both times, medical personnel offered Tylenol to treat Poole's complaints of severe eye pain, but they never checked his blood pressure.

Upon returning to his cell, Poole collapsed and the guards took him to the infirmary in a wheelchair. Without checking his blood pressure, the medical staff instructed that Poole return to his cell.

The guards, including one identified in court records as Deputy Gunderson, though Poole was lying about not being able to see or walk.

Shortly thereafter, Poole fell unconscious. He visited the infirmary for the fourth time that day, vomiting. After a reading showed his blood pressure was 197/90, the staff immediately called 911. Optimal blood pressure is 120/80.

The hospital measured Poole's blood pressure at 236/68, and a scan showed that he had suffered a massive brain hemorrhage. The next day, Poole was declared clinically brain dead.

As administratrix of Poole's estate, Poole's sister Evelyn Sawyer sued Kenneth Stolle, the sheriff of Virginia Beach; the jail's medical services provider, Conmed Inc.; as well as jail medical and non-medical staff members for wrongful death.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Robert Doumar dismissed Sawyer's claims against Deputy Gunderson, finding that "Gunderson reasonably relied on the advice of medical personnel in his treatment of Mr. Poole."

"When defendant Gunderson is alleged to have been deliberately indifferent to Mr. Poole's well-being, he had just brought Mr. Poole back from the infirmary, where medical personnel had dismissed Mr. Poole's symptoms and instructed the guards to return him to his cell," Doumar wrote.

"Plaintiff's complaint provides no fact which supports a finding that defendant Gunderson failed of his own accord to provide Mr. Poole with needed medical care, that he deliberately interfered with the prison doctor's provision of care, or that he was deliberately indifferent to the physician's constitutional violations," the decision states.

"On the contrary, the complaint alleges that the prison guards, including defendant Gunderson, several times escorted Mr. Poole to and from the infirmary in response to his complaints," Doumar added.

"Unless specifically instructed otherwise by medical personnel, non-medical jail personnel are not required to provide care which goes beyond ensuring access to treatment by qualified professionals, nor are they qualified to do so."

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