Heartbreaking Tale of |Fatal Jail Withdrawal

     (CN) – Though a heroin-addicted inmate was seizing and vomiting blood while going through severe withdrawal, a central Virginia jail offered him only Gatorade, and he died, the man’s mother claims in Federal Court.
     “A jail sentence should not be a death sentence,” the complaint filed June 2 in Charlottesville, W. Va., claims.
     Sherry Thornhill says her son, Shawn Berry, died 48 hours after he was brought to the Central Virginia Regional Jail early in the morning on Aug. 7, 2014, on an outstanding warrant.
     The CVRJ authority and each of its guards, nurses and other employees “tortured and then killed Berry” by denying him medical care, the federal complaint states.
     Thornhill says jail superintendent, F. Glenn Aylor, didn’t waste any time in trying to blame Berry for his own death.
     “Before Aylor called Thornhill, or any of Berry’s kin, Aylor wrote an email … in which he falsely stated: ‘Inmate Berry’s death appears to be from a pre-existing medical condition that my medical department was not aware of.’ (emphasis added),” the complaint states (parentheses in original). “The next day Ayor told Berry’s aunt, Sandy Via: ‘It wasn’t [Berry’s] first rodeo.'”
     But Thornhill says that is precisely why her son informed the deputies who arrested him, and later the jail staff, that he would go into withdrawal in custody.
     Thornhill notes that Berry spent some time in jail a year earlier, and he experienced withdrawal so severe he was placed in a hospital intensive care unit.
     Intake paperwork on Berry from his Aug. 7, 2014, arrest allegedly reflected his problem. That document noted that Berry drank a fifth of liquor and snorted heroin every day, and incident reports over the next 48 hours showed that jail staffers knew Berry was going through drug withdrawals, the complaint alleges.
     Thornhill says Berry had vomited all over his jumpsuit and bunk by 10 p.m. on the day of his arrest.
     By the following morning, Berry was allegedly delusional and unable to keep track of time. A judge canceled Berry’s court appearance that day in light of the risk he would be sick in the courtroom, Thornhill says.
     The next morning, Berry was allegedly too weak to stand, eat or drink. He was delirious, severely dehydrated, vomiting, and he had lost control of his bowels, according to the lawsuit.
     Thornhill says Berry tried to shower but ended up laying on the floor, vomiting and dry heaving. He later fell out of bed. Medical staff examined Berry that afternoon and gave him Gatorade, according to the complaint.
     When staff observed vomit that looked like coffee grounds, which indicates a gastric bleed, they refilled his Gatorade and gave him pills, Thornhill says.
     But a gastric bleed suggests impaired swallowing related to severe swallowing, so Berry should have been designated NPO, or nothing by mouth, immediately, according to the complaint.
     Berry’s blood pressure was also allegedly well below his normal high range. He had a seizure when staff tried to put him on the toilet, and all one officer did was rub “Berry’s foot with her fingernail for five minutes,” the complaint states.
     After suffering “in pain and delirium for more than 12 hours,” Berry lost “copious amounts of blood as it poured from his mouth, ears, and nose,” the complaint states.
     Still no one called a doctor, and Berry was pronounced dead at 6:17 p.m., his mother says.
     Thornhill notes that the jail “ousted Aylor … from his command” after Berry’s death, “but that is not enough.”
     “Defendants must be held accountable for their deliberate indifference to the health and welfare of inmates at CVRJ, including for their deliberate indifference to Berry’s condition, which they knew how to treat, but refused to treat,” the lawsuit states.
     Thornhill blames Aylor’s mismanagement and penchant for hoarding budget money on creating the environment that allowed Berry’s death.
     “Defendants knew what to do to treat Berry, but refused to do it, because under Aylor’s command of CVRJ, it was (and remains) an impermissible drain on the budget of CVRJ and the CVRJ Counties to provide proper medical care to CVRJ inmates,” the complaint states (parentheses in original).
     Along with punitive damages for wrongful death, Thornhill wants the court to appoint a receiver to manage the jail’s affairs until it improves medical care.
     Thornhill is represented by Robert Wilson in Harrisonburg.

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