County denies responsibility for inmate’s death

Ralph B. Davis rdavis@civitasmedia.com

September 3, 2013

PIKEVILLE — Floyd County says it cannot be responsible for the death of a prisoner earlier this year, because, among other things, the inmate was responsible for administering his own medications.

After some delay, Jeffery M. Baldwin filed an answer on behalf of the county, former Jailer Roger Webb and several jail employees, in the wrongful death lawsuit filed June 20 by Amber Griffith, whose father died Jan. 27 of complications from diabetes while incarcerated at the Floyd County Detention Center.

In his answer, Baldwin contends that the county is immune from the lawsuit, that Griffith’s complaint should be dismissed, and that any “injuries and/or damages were the result of acts and/or omissions of an independent contractor and not the defendants.” In two places, he also notes that “all diabetes medication received by Joey Griffith was self-administered.”

The answer admits several points of Griffith’s complaint, including the overall timeline and cause of death, but specifically denies that Griffith’s contention that her father “and other inmates of the jail repeatedly asked that a doctor be called for Joey Griffith and/or that he be taken back to the hospital.”

According to Griffith’s complaint, her father, a former employee of the jail, was incarcerated Jan. 19, at which time he advised jail staff that he was diabetic and required five shots a day of diabetic medications Humulog and Lantus to control his blood sugar levels. However, according to Griffith, the jail administered “varying” doses of the medications “with varying frequency.” The complaint alleges Joey Griffith receive two shots on Jan. 20, three shots each on Jan. 21 and 22, and only one shot on Jan. 23.

“From Jan. 20 to the evening of Jan. 23, Mr. Griffith’s blood sugar level was never lower than 370 mg/dl and was as high as 600 mg/dl,” the complaint reads, further pointing out that a normal blood sugar level is between 65 and 100 mg/dl.

By the evening of Jan. 23, Griffith’s condition had worsened to the point that he was “complaining of chest pain, shortness of breath and/or nausea,” and he was taken to Highlands Regional Medical Center. The complaint maintains those symptoms are consistent with diabetic ketoacidosis, which is a “potentially life-threatening complication of diabetes attributable to a lack of insulin.”

After he was discharged from the hospital, the complaint says, he was taken back to jail with written instructions that he be given 25 units of Lantus once a day at bedtime and five units of Humulog three times a day before meals. However, Amber Griffith maintains those orders were not followed, and he received inconsistent doses of medication ranging from 10 units to 30 units at varying intervals.

By the night of Jan. 27, jail guards noticed Joey Griffith “was not feeling well” and moved him to Cell 40. A little more than five hours later, he would be found dead in his cell. A medical examiner would later find diabetic ketoacidosis was the cause of death.

“There is no record that Mr. Griffith was ever examined, much less seen, by a medical professional after his return from the hospital and before his death,” the complaint says. “Records suggest that the medications were administered by persons who were not only unaware of the hospital’s written discharge orders, but lacked the training and supervision to properly perform the critical medical function they were assigned in Mr. Griffith’s case.”

In the answer, the defendants ask that the case be dismissed and that Griffith reimburse them for their costs in defending the lawsuit.