Man suing Barry County jail for $1.2 million
Plaintiff says jail staff refused treatment after assault, causing paralyzation
A man serving time in state prison is suing the Barry County jail for $1.2 million, claiming refusal for medical treatment following an assault in the jail has left him partially paralyzed.
James Albert Smith, 34, who is serving a 5-year sentence at the Algoa Correctional Center in Jefferson City, filed the suit against seven defendants in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri on Dec. 17, 2018.
The suit, seeking $1.2 million for past physical, mental and emotional damages and distress, stems from a February 2017 incident in the Barry County jail. Named as defendants are seven “John Doe (full name unknown),” which include jail staff, deputies and a judge.
Gary Davis, Barry County sheriff, said he has no comment on the litigation and has not been served. Gary Youngblood, Barry County presiding commissioner, said suits are sent to the county’s insurance company, Midwest Public Risk, which advised the county on legal matters.
According to the suit’s statement of claim, Smith was arrested and booked into the Barry County jail on Feb. 3, 2017, admitted by medical staff with no physical damages or disabilities, or mental or personality disorders.
The statement says on the morning of Feb. 4, 2017, Smith was the “victim of an unprovoked assault by another inmate,” identified as Harley Harris. The assault allegedly resulted in “multiple cervical fractures, contusions, paralysis and loss of consciousness,” leading to “serious and life-changing injury” for Smith.
Smith was found on the floor of his cell by another inmate asking for help. When jail staff arrived, they allegedly asked Smith if he was OK, and Smith, according to the statement, “responded by stating ‘Help, I think my neck is broke. Something is wrong. My hands don’t work. I need to go to the emergency room. It hurts.’”
Staff left Smith, then later returned and instructed Smith to try and get up. Smith responded, “I don’t think I should try. It’s my neck. Please, my hands don’t work. I need to go to the emergency room.”
Staff allegedly denied his request for medical attention, saying, “I cannot take you to the emergency room, and I’m not calling an ambulance, so you should try and get up.”
The statement claims staff violated jail policy and protocol requiring inmates in physical altercations be examined by licensed medical personnel. The claim is the access to care was denied because medical staff do not work at the jail on Saturdays or Sundays.
Smith followed staff orders, “causing [him] great physical pain, confusion, frustration and placing him at substantial risk for further serious harm,” according to the statement. He was then instructed to gather his belongings, but was unable to do so due to the inability to control movement of his fingers. Smith again asked for medical treatment, but was denied, and staff moved his belongings, including sleeping mat, to a newly assigned cell.
The statement claims the movement across the building caused Smith “great pain, diminished range of motion and paralysis.”
Smith stayed in his bunk for a period of time, suffering from a “swollen neck, diminished range of cranial movement, paralysis in his hands and contusions on his skull.”
Staff later returned to his cell, saying video of the assault had been reviewed and Harris had been identified as the alleged assailant, and Smith agreed to press charges. At this time, Smith again asked for medical treatment and was allegedly told medical staff was not working at that time and he would have to wait.
The next morning, when the first meal was delivered to his cell, Smith asked another member of jail staff for medical attention, citing concerns of a broken neck, being in pain and suffering paralysis of his hands. The jailer allegedly told Smith medical staff did not work on weekends and denied the request.
Smith later had his cell mate help fill out a request/sick call form, as he could not write due to the paralysis in his hands. Another denial of medical care was allegedly given that night.
On the morning of Feb. 6, 2017, Smith said his fingers still did not work, and a third jailer allegedly denied his request for care. The statement says Smith’s injuries were exacerbated by having to go up and down stairs for afternoon and evening meals.
On the morning of Feb. 7, 2017, another jailer informed Smith he was going to court for arraignment. Smith allegedly informed the jailer about worsening pain, fear of paralysis and a broken neck, and the jailer allegedly acknowledged Smith but disregarded the claims and ordered Smith to walk to the front desk to be transported.
Smith was taken to court and arraigned, during which he told the judge of the assault, fear of a broken neck, persisting paralysis and severe pain, and he requested to go to the emergency room. The judge allegedly denied the request, stating, “There are certain procedures you have to follow.”
Smith was transported back to the jail and was in his cell until the night of Feb. 7, 2017, when a portable X-ray machine was brought in and X-rays of his neck were taken. They showed a “hangman’s fracture” to his C vertebrae.
Smith was then transported to Mercy Hospital in Cassville by patrol vehicle. The statement claims it violated jail protocol to not have qualified medical staff perform the transport to the emergency room.
Evaluation at Mercy allegedly showed an additional fracture to Smith’s C2 vertebrae and multiple contusions on Smith’s skull, indicating violence continued after Smith lost consciousness.
Smith was then transported to Mercy Hospital in Springfield, to which he was transported with a neck brace and straps to prevent further injury. Another jailer named as a defendant would not allow the transfer to Springfield until an own recognizance bond was issued and signed by Smith. Unable to sign his name due to the paralysis, Smith signed the bond with an “X” and was taken to Springfield.
CT scans, MRIs and additional X-rays showed the hangman’s fractures to the C and C2 vertebrae, and a neurological test prior to surgery indicated partial paralysis was occurring during incarceration.
A neurosurgeon at Mercy allegedly informed Smith “he was lucky to be alive given the type and severity of his injury, and the denial of medical care could have caused damage additional to the injury.”
On Feb. 8, 2017, Smith underwent 28 hours of correctional surgery, including a permanent metal plate being attached to his skull and rods extending down and attaching to his C3 vertebrae.
According to the statement, Smith has “lost complete range of motion of his skull being independent of the spine, rendering him, forevermore, unable to turn his head, in any direction.” He will also have chronic neck and back pain.
Smith has also been diagnosed by a licensed psychiatrist with mood disorder, personality disorder, behavioral disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and social phobia as a result of his experience.
The statement alleges by failing to provide medical attention, Smith’s 8th Amendment rights (which prohibits excessive fines and excessive bail, as well as cruel and unusual punishment) and 14th Amendment rights (which defines citizenship, contains the Privileges or Immunities Clause, the Due Process Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and deals with post–Civil War issues) have been violated.
As a result, Smith is seeking a total of $1.2 million in damages and a jury trial, as well as recovery of costs of the lawsuit and any other relief the court deems just. He is being represented by Stephan Walsh, of Poplar Bluff, John Cowherd, of Mount Vernon, and Robert Curran, of Springfield.
Smith was arrested and jailed for an alleged domestic assault in February 2017. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation, but allegedly failed to follow conditions of the probation. He was sentenced to 5 years in state prison starting on July 17, 2018.
Harris was being held in the Barry County jail at the same time as Smith for allegedly failing to appear to court for a 2015 drug possession charge. After the assault, he was charged with and pleaded guilty to first-degree assault.
According to a probable cause statement filed by Bill Watkins, Deputy with the Barry County Sheriff’s Office, at about 2 a.m. on Feb. 3, 2017, Smith was booked into the jail with no trauma or illness, and at about 9:35 p.m. the same day, Harris allegedly entered Smith’s cell and was inside for about 45 seconds. The statements notes medical records show Smith required surgery for neck fractures, a hangman’s break, as a result of the assault.
In federal court, Attorney Michael Foster has been appointed to Smith. A motion to expedite discovery on Smith’s behalf has been filed, and opposition or a response is due to the court by Feb. 4.