PDT Staff Writer
The family of Timothy Conwell, 38, of Willow Wood, Ohio — an inmate who died in the Lawrence County Jail last year — has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in United States District Court in Cincinnati, according to their attornies Al Gerhardstein and Jennifer Branch.
The suit was filed Friday by Conwell’s sister Cynthia Davis, individually and as administrator of the estate of Timothy Conwell, and Conwell’s mother Ronda Coons, and names as defendants the Lawrence County Commissioners, Lawrence County Sheriff Jeffery Lawless, jail physician Dr. Rodolfo Canos, Jr., and jail employees Derek Newman, Robert Curnell and Sue Mays.
“This civil rights action challenges defendants’ failure to provide adequate medical care to Timothy Conwell, who was suffering from a severe oxycodone overdose as he was booked into and held at the Lawrence County Jail on Oct. 14, 2011,” the suit reads. “Defendant correction officers knew that Mr. Conwell was under the influence of drugs, but they failed to check his vital signs and they failed to secure any treatment from a health care professional.”
At the time of Conwell’s death Lawless said his office received a call from the Comfort Inn and Suites on U.S. 52 and County Road 1, South Point, where a clerk said there was a man passed out on the lobby couch, and he was not a guest at the hotel. According to Lawless, the deputy who responded said Conwell had slurred speech, was staggering, and appeared to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Conwell had no identification, but the deputy recognized him from previous dealings. The deputy reported that Conwell said he was attempting to find a place to stay for the weekend and that he had been sentenced to an eight-year prison term for trafficking in drugs, and was to turn himself in at the Sheriff’s Office on Monday. The hotel would not allow him to rent a room because he did not have proper identification.
Lawless said the deputy did not feel he could leave Conwell to care for himself because of his condition. He walked Conwell to his patrol car in the parking lot and allowed him to eat a chicken dinner Conwell had purchased just prior to his arrival at the hotel. During that time, the deputy obtained phone numbers of family members and friends in an attempt to find him a place to stay for the night. Lawless said Conwell’s brother was contacted, but refused to allow him to stay. Three friends were contacted and no one would allow him to stay with them, even after the deputy volunteered to drive him to their homes. The deputy contacted two other hotels in the area, but they would not accept him either without proper identification.
Lawless said the deputy placed Conwell under arrested for disorderly by intoxication and transported him to the Lawrence County Jail. Lawless said, at no point while with the deputy, did Conwell lose consciousness. Deputies said Conwell was cooperative during booking procedures. During that time the corrections staff found a prescription bottle of Oxycontin and Xanax. Conwell would not say how many pills he had taken, if any.
According to the lawsuit, at booking Conwell produced two prescription pill bottles, one for Xanax and one for Oxycodone. Both had been issued to him the previous day and had his name and date on the bottles. The Xanax prescription had only 10 of 30 pills remaining and the Oxycodone prescription had only 3 of 90 pills remaining.
Conwell’s attorneys said, “through the case the family will secure a full explanation of the events of that night and impose accountability on those responsible for Timothy’s suffering and death.”
Gerhardstein and Branch have filed numerous cases across the state challenging what they say is inadequate medical care in prisons and jails. “Oxycodone is a huge problem in Southern Ohio,” Gerhardstein said. “Jail medical programs need to identify the symptoms and provide proper treatment. Timothy Conwell would be alive today if a few simple steps had just been followed. This must not be allowed to happen again.”
“The Conwell family hopes through this case to trigger reforms that will prevent the deaths of future inmates suffering from drug overdoses” Branch said.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at email@example.com.