COLUMBUS – Defendants in a federal lawsuit against the Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail in Nelsonville, over the June 2018 death of a female inmate, have asked a judge to grant summary judgment in their favor.
In a motion on behalf of five current or former jail employees, attorney Aaron M. Glasgow argues among other points that the facts of the case do not support the plaintiff’s allegation that jail employees, including the jail nursing supervisor and corrections officers, were “deliberately indifferent” to the medical needs of 38-year-old inmate Jennifer Ohlinger of Gallipolis, resulting in her death.
The named defendants in the case also include Hocking County, as well as the other area counties – Athens, Morgan, Perry and Vinton – that house inmates at the jail.
After Ohlinger died while in the jail’s custody, her daughter, Kelsea Mercer, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. The complaint alleged that jail personnel had repeatedly and knowingly denied Ohlinger appropriate medical care after she fell and hit her head on a bench, which led to bleeding on her brain and ultimately her death.
The motion for summary judgment, filed Sept. 30 on behalf of defendants James Gray II, Charity Lowery, Amista Jarvis, Cody Gilbraith and Joshua D. VanBibber, claims that Mercer cannot show that Gray, a registered nurse who at the time was supervisor of the jail’s medical department, “was aware of facts sufficient to show that he objectively knew or should have known that (Ohlinger) was in the midst of a medical emergency,” or that he recklessly disregarded the information he did have about Ohlinger’s condition.
“To the contrary,” the motion states, “the facts show that (Gray) promptly provided Ms. Ohlinger with medical care and attempted to treat her based on the vague and inconsistent symptoms and facts of which he was aware.”
Likewise, Glasgow maintains, the evidence establishes that corrections officers “immediately responded to all medical related calls for Ms. Ohlinger, they promptly took her to the medical unit for care, and they followed all directives from SEORJ’s medical staff.”
As for Warden VanBibber, the motion says, Mercer cannot demonstrate that he was deliberately indifferent to Ohlinger’s medical needs, “as there is no evidence that he was aware of any facts related to her incarceration or her medical condition at any time relevant to this case.”
Mercer has also lodged a claim against the jail itself; Glasgow states that she cannot show that any “policy, practice or custom” of the jail was the moving force behind any violation of Ohlinger’s constitutional rights. He adds that the jail has a comprehensive policy relating to medical care for inmates, and that there is “no evidence of any policy, practice or custom fostered by or within SEORJ of allowing deviation from or violation of” that policy.
Ohlinger – who according to deposition testimony by her daughter had struggled with drug addiction – was booked into the jail on June 20, 2018 on charges of burglary and receiving stolen property. On June 25, she collapsed and later died. Jail video exists of the jail staff’s interactions with her in the hours leading up to her collapse.
According to Glasgow’s synopsis of the facts based on deposition testimony and other evidence, around 7 a.m. on June 25, Ohlinger fell off a bench she was sitting on in a common area. Other inmates called for help; Jarvis and Lowery responded, and called in Gray, who checked Ohlinger’s vital signs, and also checked for signs of neurological problems such as facial droop, motor skill deficits, or slurred speech. According to deposition testimony by the nurse, though other inmates said Ohlinger had had a seizure and hit her head, Gray saw no evidence suggesting either seizure or head injury, and believed there was “nothing acute” in Ohlinger’s condition that warranted any immediate action other than to monitor her. She was put to bed and told to call for medical help if she needed it.
Not long afterwards, an inmate called for help for Ohlinger; Lowery and Jarvis responded, escorted Ohlinger to change her clothes as she had urinated on herself (not an uncommon occurrence among inmates, according to deposition testimony by Lowery), and took her to the medical area to see Gray. He examined her, did a urine test, and ordered other testing.
Around 7:40 a.m. Ohlinger was escorted back to her cell again; an hour later a corrections officer looked in on her but did not enter the cell. At 9:12 a.m. an inmate found Ohlinger unresponsive and called for help on an intercom. Gray tried to revive the unconscious woman using a defibrillator and started CPR until medics arrived and took over. Ohlinger was transported to the hospital, where she died.
Glasgow contends that the jail defendants are entitled to qualified immunity from the claims against them, because “they promptly responded to (Ohlinger’s) medical needs and provided appropriate care… based on the facts known to (them).”
The attorney also maintains that there was no constitutional violation by the defendants, and that even if there had been, there is no evidence that this was driven by any jail policy, procedure or lack of training. There is also no support, he says, for the notions that the defendants acted maliciously, in bad faith, wantonly, or recklessly, or that they perversely disregarded a known risk.
In deposition testimony included in the court records, Mercer said that in the month before her mother had gone into jail her mother was staying with her and “detoxing,” and that she was “kind of tired” and “nauseous. She wasn’t feeling the greatest.” She said she never saw Ohlinger have any kind of seizure event in that time, but that she did suffer from headaches.
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