Saline County has paid $344,000 to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit filed in 2016 by the brother of a 30-year-old Bauxite man who died in the county jail of diabetic ketoacidosis.
Joshua Arras, brother of Donovan Arras, sued the county, former jail administrator J.P. Massiet, Sheriff Rodney Wright, Southern Health Partners Inc., and two nurses, Amanda Davis and Breanna Ogden. The lawsuit also named as defendants unidentified jailers whose names were never added to the suit.
The lawsuit alleged that the jail and Southern Health, which is no longer the jail's medical provider, violated Donovan Arras' constitutional rights by refusing to give the documented diabetic inmate his insulin on a regular basis after he was arrested for a probation violation on Nov. 7, 2015.
A jury trial was set for May 14 before Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Miller, but the parties held a settlement conference April 23 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Beth Deere and on June 1, filed a joint stipulation for dismissal.
The stipulation says the case was "settled in full," but doesn't reveal the conditions of the settlement.
Attorney George Ellis of Benton, who as an attorney for the Association of Arkansas Counties represented the county, jail administrator and sheriff, confirmed Wednesday that $344,000 in public funds from the association were paid to settle his clients' share of the agreement.
However, the amount paid by Southern Health, a private company, could not be determined, and Ellis said he wasn't at liberty to provide that information.
Neither Texarkana, Texas, attorney Jim Cook, who represented Southern and the two nurses, nor Paige Edgin, an attorney with the Peter Miller law firm in Little Rock who represented the plaintiff, returned calls about the settlement.
According to the lawsuit, which Edgin originally filed in Saline County Circuit Court on Aug. 29, 2016, and was soon transferred to federal court, Donovan Arras had Type 1 diabetes, for which he had been treated most of his life.
He had prescriptions for two types of insulin, and was supposed to take one of them twice a day and the other every day.
The lawsuit said monitoring of his glucose levels was "paramount to his treatment," and that a blood glucose reading over 200 mg/dl (milligrams per deciliter) was considered high and "signaled the immediate need for medication and treatment."
If untreated, Arras faced life-threatening complications and death, the lawsuit said. It noted that his condition was documented on his jail intake forms, that his inmate medical form noted that he had been hospitalized for his diabetes three weeks before his arrest and that his father took his insulin to the jail shortly after his arrest.
Court documents show the county contracted with Southern Health to provide nursing services to jail inmates for 56 hours each week.
"By agreement, the nursing services were being provided on Monday through Friday," according to Southern Health's pretrial disclosures. It said that when its nurses Davis or Ogden weren't on duty, "the Saline County correction officers were responsible for providing routine health care monitoring and services."
On the Saturday night that Arras was arrested, Davis was off-duty but went to the jail at 9:30 p.m. to check Arras' blood sugar, according to court documents.
They show that upon getting a reading of 351 mg/dL, the nurse administered insulin, along with another medicine to control nausea.
They say a jailer then contacted the nurse shortly after midnight to report that Arras felt his blood sugar level was still high, and she instructed him to check, and to administer insulin if elevated.
The jailer obtained a blood sugar reading of 210 mg/dl, and insulin was given, the documents say.
Southern Health said in court documents that Davis "had no further contact from detention center personnel regarding Donovan Arras until after his death on Sunday, Nov. 15," which was a week and a day after his admission to the jail Nov. 7, 2015.
The lawsuit said Arras told deputies and employees of the jail that he needed his diabetes medication, and exhibited physical symptoms indicating he needed medical attention, but jailers and the medical provider "deliberately and willfully failed to provide self-evident medical treatment."
Medical personnel noted two days after Arras' admission that he was throwing up "profusely," and said a nurse gave him insulin after measuring his blood sugar at 452 mg/dl.
The suit says that later that same day, Arras was again throwing up and was given medication without his blood sugar being checked.
"Donovan Arras was not treated again or given his insulin for three days," the lawsuit states.
It said his blood sugar was checked at the infirmary and recorded as 381 mg/dl, and he was given insulin. But then he was placed into a holding cell about 3:20 p.m. on Nov. 12 and "does not leave his cell again until his death the evening of Nov. 15."
During that time, on Nov. 13, a nurse saw him throwing up, checked his blood sugar and gave him insulin, according to the lawsuit. The following day, it says, a jailer called the nurse and sought permission to give Arras medication for nausea.
It says records show the nurse instructed the jailer to check Arras' blood sugar and administer insulin, but that there were no further notes to indicate what happened.
From about noon on Nov. 14, the Friday after his arrest, until noon the next day, Arras lay naked and motionless in his cell without eating, the lawsuit says. It describes guards visiting the cell and nudging him, even leaving food trays and then retrieving them untouched, but never checking further, until a guard checked the inmate's pulse on the evening of Nov. 14, a Saturday, finding none. Emergency personnel soon arrived to find that Arras had died.
"The exact time of Donovan Arras' death is unknown but is believed to have occurred some time between the hours of 4:00 a.m. and 5:25 p.m. on Nov. 15, 2015," according to the lawsuit.
In an autopsy, a medical examiner found that Arras had "severely high levels of glucose and ketones" in his urine, a blood glucose reading of 506 mg/dl and signs of dehydration, according to the lawsuit.
It said he was survived by his wife, Amber Arras; a daughter; his father; his mother; a sister; and a brother.
The sheriff's office and Southern Health knew about his serious medical needs, and their inaction showed deliberate indifference, the lawsuit argued. It sought monetary damages for unconstitutional treatment, medical malpractice and negligence, as well as for his "unnecessary pain and suffering for the duration of his confinement."
Ellis said the jail has since changed health care providers. The county now contracts with Turn Key Health Clinics of Oklahoma City.
In January, Turn Key was sued in federal court alongside the Pulaski County jail in connection with the Dec. 14, 2016, asthma death of Sharon Lavette Alexander, 41, of Little Rock.
That lawsuit, filed by Alexander's daughter, Porcha Alexander, said neither medical personnel nor jailers would give Sharon Alexander her inhaler, which was confiscated in accordance with a jail policy when she was booked into the jail on a shoplifting-turned-robbery charge.
Lt. Cody Burk, a spokesman for the Pulaski County sheriff's office, said in January that Alexander's death was a "big factor" in the office's decision to change the jail policy on inmate property, particularly asthma inhalers, to instruct deputies to immediately inspect an inmate's inhaler for contraband and then return it.
A jury trial in that case has been set for April 1.
Metro on 06/17/2018
Print Headline: $344,000 paid in jail-death suit