Lawsuits allege deadly neglect of inmates in Butler, Warren counties

10:24 a.m. Friday, Feb. 17, 2017 Local
Warren County is facing as much as $56 million in projected cost to expand its jail. By Lawrence Budd

Editor’s note: An I-Team investigation found more than a dozen lawsuits against area jails claiming inmates were beaten, raped, medically neglected or killed in jail. In addition to possibly costing taxpayers dearly, advocates for inmates say these cases suggest a failure of the system to protect vulnerable people in public custody. Read our full investigation here.

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Butler County recently settled a lawsuit brought by the daughter of a woman who died of complication from opiate withdrawal at the jail. The $285,000 settlement was split between the county and its insurance company.

It now faces a suit brought by Arthur Freimuth, who claims he was hospitalized after jail staff refused to provide his diabetes medicine.

“Mr. Freimuth was evaluated by jail medical personnel four times in less than 24 hours. When Mr. Freimuth developed a diabetes complication, he was immediately and appropriately sent to the hospital where he recovered,” says a statement from Andrew N. Yosowitz, who is representing the county in the case. “We do not believe Mr. Freimuth is entitled to taxpayer money.”

On Jan. 30, Warren County settled a lawsuit brought by the family of Jason Pittman, who died while suffering from heroin withdrawal at the county jail in 2015. According to the family’s lawsuit, his dehydration could have been treated, keeping him alive.

SPECIAL REPORT: 15 lawsuits allege inmate mistreatment at area county jails

A week after reaching a settlement in that case, the county was sued again, this time by the family of an inmate who committed suicide at the jail in August 2016.

Both lawsuits are against the county and Correctional Healthcare Companies, which provides medical treatment at the jail.

The mother of Justin Stewart filed her lawsuit this month. She alleges multiple court records and her son’s behavior at the jail showed he suffered from severe mental health issues, yet jail staff determined he had “no mental health needs.” Stewart had been arrested April 19, 2016, for failing to comply with mental health treatment required by his probation after a prior arrest for improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle, the lawsuit says.

Lebanon attorney Konrad Kircher, who filed the suit on behalf of the family, said Stewart was in the jail waiting to be institutionalized and should have been watched more closely.

RELATED: More oversight sought for area jails

“This young man, he had severe, obvious mental health problems,” Kircher said. “For whatever reason they said, ‘we’re going to put him on hourly watches.’ There’s no rationalization for that.”

Stewart hung himself in his cell on Aug. 30.

A third suit against the jail was filed by 38-year-old Cheryl Luke. She alleges that she was denied medication, leaving her in a vulnerable state during which she was raped by guards. She also alleges that the county failed to collect forensic evidence as part of its investigation.

No criminal charges have been filed.

Kircher said it appears from the cases that inmate needs are being ignored at the jail.

“The larger issue is failing to deal with medical and mental health needs of inmates,” he said. “It’s just this feeling that the inmates don’t’ deserve the treatment, or this inability on the part of the jailers to recognize when the inmates have those needs.”

RELATED: Officers spit on, attacked in jails bursting with mentally ill

Warren County Sheriff Larry Sims said he couldn’t talk about the lawsuits but he defended his officers and their treatment of inmates.

“Our corrections staff care very, very deeply with how people are treated at our facility,” he said.

As for the rape allegations, Sims said, “I don’t have any ill will to this young lady, don’t want to speak poorly of her. We just know this did not and could not have happened.

“Ultimately it’s going to take our day in court to be able to show that.”

I-TEAM SPECIAL PROJECT: JUSTICE AT THE JAILHOUSE

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