Washington County praises jail doctor named in ivermectin suit

The exterior of the Washington County jail. (NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo)
The exterior of the Washington County jail. (NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo)

FAYETTEVILLE -- Washington County's justices of the peace on Thursday split over two resolutions, approving one praising the doctor providing medical services to the county jail and rejecting a second affirming the right of informed consent for medical treatment.

The Quorum Court approved a resolution expressing appreciation to Dr. Robert Karas, the county's medical services provider for the jail. After contentious debate among the justices of the peace and public discussion, the Quorum Court's Jail/Law Enforcement/Courts Committee sent the resolution on to the full Quorum Court by a vote of 7-1, with Eva Madison, justice of the peace for District 9, casting the lone dissenting vote.

The resolution, praising Karas for his treatment of detainees and staff during the covid pandemic, says "the numbers and effects of the virus have been largely exaggerated" with an estimated death rate of 0.5% in the U.S. The resolution says there has been more than 850 cases of the infection in the jail with zero deaths.

The Quorum Court voted 9-4 to endorse the resolution. Voting in favor were justices of the peace Butch Pond, Lance Johnson, Shannon Marti, Sean Simons, Bill Ussery, Patrick Deakins, Lisa Ecke, Sam Duncan, and Jim Wilson. Voting against the resolution were justices of the peace Shawndra Washington, Eva Madison, Suki Highers and Evelyn Rios Stafford. Justice of the Peace Willie Leming abstained from voting and Justice of the Peace Robert Dennis was absent when the vote was taken.

Deakins, justice of the peace for District 5 and a candidate for county judge, sponsored the resolution supporting Karas. Deakins said in presenting the resolution he wanted to avoid "partisan debate."

"I don't want this to be a debate about certain treatments," Deakins said. "I want you to know how proud of you we are."

Highers said the resolution prompted just the kind of debate Deakins said he wanted to avoid by using certain words and phrases, citing a line identifying the origin of the virus as from Wuhan, China, and another saying the effects of the virus have been "exaggerated" despite the fact that millions of people worldwide have died from covid.

"It's embedded within this resolution," Highers said. "It is designed precisely to stir up partisan politics."

Another resolution was presented by Evelyn Rios Stafford, justice of the peace for District 12, "supporting the principle of informed consent to medical treatments."

Stafford's resolution states "It is both customary and legally required in all medical settings, both within Arkansas and beyond, that patients be given complete, accurate, and truthful information to enable them to make an informed decision as to whether to proceed with medical treatments."

The Quorum Court voted to reject the resolution. On a motion to approve four justices of the peace -- Washington, Madison, Highers and Stafford -- voted in favor of the resolution. Justices of the peace Pond, Johnson, Marti, Simons, Ussery, Deakins, Ecke, Duncan, Leming and Wilson voted against it. Justice of the Peace Dennis abstained from voting.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas filed a federal lawsuit last month in which several detainees contend they were unknowingly given ivermectin at the jail without being told the nature, contents or potential side effects of the drug. The lawsuit says they were told the treatment consisted of "vitamins," "antibiotics," and/or "steroids."

The lawsuit contends detainees were given ivermectin as early as November 2020 and didn't become aware of what the treatment was until July.

Sheriff Tim Helder told the Quorum Court's Finance and Budget Committee in August that Karas Correctional Health had been prescribing ivermectin as a treatment at the jail, according to the ACLU.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn't approved ivermectin for use in treating nor preventing covid-19 in humans, according to the lawsuit.

It's approved to treat some parasitic worms, head lice and skin conditions, but isn't an antiviral drug.

Under Arkansas law, medical providers have a legal duty to warn a patient of potential hazards of future medical treatment, according to the lawsuit.

Plaintiffs in the case include Edrick Floreal-Wooten, Jeremiah Little, Julio Gonzales and Dayman Blackburn, who were housed in a quarantine block at the jail.

The lawsuit says the group was given inappropriately high doses of ivermectin.

Defendants include Helder, in his official capacity as sheriff; Karas Correctional Health; Dr. Robert Karas; and the Washington County jail.

An attorney for Helder, Karas, the clinic and jail, filed an answer in the case contending they are entitled to several forms of legal immunity from being sued, including statutory and qualified immunity and tort and negligence immunity.

They also say the claims may be moot to the extent some of the plaintiffs are no longer in jail or the statute of limitations may have run out.

The answer also contends there can be no constitutional violation or deliberate indifference because physicians are permitted to exercise medical judgment in the treatment of inmates.

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