The Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail is being sued over the death of an inmate.

COLUMBUS – The two sides in a wrongful death lawsuit against the Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail in Nelsonville continue to go back and forth in court filings, arguing over a motion by the defendants asking for summary judgment in their favor. The plaintiff has asked a federal court to deny this motion.

In the latest submission in the case to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, the attorney for the jail and three of its employees maintains that even if a jail nurse misdiagnosed the medical condition of a Gallipolis woman who died in jail custody, there is no evidence that jail employees deliberately ignored the woman’s medical needs.

According to the defense, such deliberate indifference is what the plaintiff – the dead woman’s daughter – would have to show in order to prove her claim that her mother’s civil rights were violated by the jail.

Kelsea Mercer filed her federal lawsuit after her mother, 38-year-old Jennifer Ohlinger of Gallipolis died in June 2018 while in jail custody. Her complaint alleged that jail employees, including the jail nursing supervisor and corrections officers, were “deliberately indifferent” to Ohlinger’s medical needs after she fell and hit her head on a bench, which led to bleeding on her brain and ultimately her death.

Named defendants in the suit also include Hocking County and the other area counties – Athens, Morgan, Perry and Vinton – that house inmates at the jail.

Mercer has recently asked to drop the jail warden and a corrections officer as defendants, leaving as individual defendants James Gray II, a registered nurse who at the time of Ohlinger’s death was supervisor of the jail’s medical department, and two C.O.s, Charity Lowery and Amista Jarvis.

After Ohlinger had her reported fall and head injury at the jail, Gray examined her, but did not call in a physician, have her transferred to a hospital, check frequently on her neurological status, or notify the warden, as the plaintiff maintains he should have done.

In a court document filed Nov. 4 supporting the defense’s motion for summary judgment, attorney Aaron M. Glasgow argues that Gray, the only medical care provider who attended to Ohlinger at the jail, provided her with appropriate treatment based on the facts as he knew them at the time.

Glasgow contends that in trying to make a case against Gray and the other defendants, Mercer “misses the point that there is a crucial difference between evidence that medical professionals erred in their diagnosis and treatment of a patient, which is not a constitutional violation, and simply ignoring the needs of a patient, which can be a constitutional violation.”

Glasgow notes that Mercer has stated in court filings that Gray and the other defendants were aware that Ohlinger had had one or more seizures. Not true, according to the defense attorney – what Gray knew is that other inmates had said Ohlinger had seizures; Gray’s own examination, however, did not find signs suggesting this was true.

Likewise with other inmates’ claims that Ohlinger had fallen and hit her head; Gray examined her, Glasgow writes, but found no evidence, such as abrasions, contusions, or neurological problems, suggesting she had suffered a head injury.

What Mercer is actually suggesting, Glasgow argues, is that the defendants misdiagnosed Ohlinger’s condition based on what they observed – “and that is not a claim for deliberate indifference.”

As for Lowery and Jarvis, the attorney writes, there is “undisputed evidence” that they relied on Gray’s medical expertise in their handling of Ohlinger’s medical issues. The two C.O.s, he says, “did what was reasonably expected and required of them.”

Mercer has introduced an affidavit from a medical expert, a neurosurgeon who teaches at Harvard Medical School. This physician has called it “inexcusable” that Ohlinger was not sent to a hospital, nor was a physician called, and has called it “more likely than not” that earlier intervention would have prevented Ohlinger’s death.

Glasgow responds that while this physician may qualify as an expert in medical issues, this does not give him legal standing to draw conclusions for the court on the question of whether the defendants showed deliberate indifference.

Glasgow also notes that the defense’s own medical expert, who specializes in correctional medicine, does not offer any opinion on the deliberate indifference question, but finds that the defendants “met the standard of care that is expected of them.”

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