$10 Million Lawsuit Filed against Sacramento Main Jail after Another Inmate Death – Pleading Charges Staff Ignored Deathly Ill Man, Pleadings of Cellmate

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By The Vanguard Staff

SACRAMENTO, CA – Sacramento County has been sued again after another death at the county’s Main Jail—the man’s cellmate said deputies ignored the man, according to a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit filed by Sacramento civil rights attorney Mark Merin for the deceased’s family against Sheriff Jim Cooper, Maxim Healthcare Services and the county.

According to the filings, Norman Fisher, Jr., who had been in the Sacramento County Main Jail for three months, began vomiting last May and “could barely sit up in his bed, and when he did so, he would vomit.”

The cellmate, according to the pleadings, told jail staff Fisher needed help but was ignored and informed that if Fisher needed help he could complete the forms himself, despite his severe illness.

But after 10 days, according to a story in the Sacramento Bee quoting court papers, “Fisher’s condition deteriorated to the point that he could not stand up long enough to use the toilet, and the jail reprimanded the cellmates for using the cell’s emergency button asking for help.”

The lawsuit claims a doctor who diagnosed Fisher with a high fever, chills and soreness advised him to let his illness “run its course,” and a medical assistant reported Fisher “refused” to come out of his cell for a blood pressure check when he actually was too sick to get up to leave the cell, noted The Bee.

Attorney Merin, in his filing, said “Fisher was so ill” by May 22 the cellmate again “asked for help from custody staff and refused to lock down his cell unless Fisher received help, a demand that led to Fisher being transferred to a medical department for observation and a diagnosis the next day by a doctor” who said Fisher needed to be sent to emergency.

The Bee reported, “Fisher ultimately was sent to Sutter Medical Center, where he was placed on life support and died May 27 from septic shock, pneumonia and acute kidney failure.”

“What can you say? He was just horribly ignored when it was obvious he needed serious medical attention,” said Attorney Merin in a Bee interview, adding, “It boggles the mind that he wouldn’t have been attended to. It was clear he had something seriously wrong with him.”

The lawsuit, noting a number of other deaths at the jail, said those who have died were victims largely of poor healthcare or mistreatment, and accuses jail staff of deliberate indifference to inmates’ constitutionally guaranteed rights to adequate medical care.

“This is the epitome of deliberate indifference,” Merin said in the Bee interview. “The constitutional requirements are pretty onerous; you have to really show that they were deliberately indifferent to a serious medical condition. And this is certainly that.”

Merin noted that, despite other instances of inmate deaths and allegations that medical care inside the jail is substandard, health care in the I Street lockup is “despicably poor.”

“Despite years of evidence of the inadequacies in the medical treatment provided at the jail, it has only gotten worse,” Merin said to The Bee. “Norman could easily have been saved had he gotten the most basic of attention; antibiotics would have cured the sepsis, a blood infection.”

The Bee wrote, “Sheriff Cooper has previously called jail medical staff ‘inept’ and asked for an overhaul of the jail’s medical unit that would place it under his control rather than the county’s.”

The Fisher lawsuit “accuses the Sheriff’s Office of failing to report some in-custody deaths and cites numerous cases where jail staff have allegedly failed to respond to inmates’ medical needs,” said The Bee, including:

▪ “The Aug. 4, 2020, death of inmate Travis Welde, who was classified as ‘fit for incarceration’ despite a urine test that resulted in positive findings for amphetamines, methamphetamine, opiates and other substances, as well as erratic behavior that included him talking nonsensically and smearing feces on himself. Welde was found face down and naked in his cell and not breathing after being ignored by jail staff.”

▪ “The June 11, 2019, death of Andrew Armstead who overdosed at the jail and died of methamphetamine intoxication.”

▪ “The Feb. 15, 2022, death of Anthony Galley from a seizure caused by severe alcohol withdrawal, the suit says. A separate suit filed on behalf of Galley’s family alleges the inmate consumed a gallon of liquor a day and that jail staff failed to provide withdrawal treatment for him.”

The Bee wrote, the “jail has operated under a federal consent decree since 2018 designed to improve health care inside the facility, but a report in October 2022 by monitors found access to health care in the jail ‘broken’ and decried filthy conditions and callous treatment of inmates.” 

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