A Federal Jury awarded $975,000 to the estate of Jennifer DeGraw, a 50-year-old, mentally ill woman who was found unconscious inside her single jail cell in the Pinellas County Jail in 2009. LMW Attorney’s own Craig A. Laporte worked diligently with other attorneys to solve this federal civil right case.
In March of 2009, Jennifer DeGraw, barefoot and in a state of mania, went to find her husband Michael DeGraw at his job. She told him that someone had stolen her car. Mrs. DeGraw was mistaken and no one had stolen her car. DeGraw was having a bipolar episode after neglecting to take her bipolar disorder medication.
Mrs. DeGraw sought the help of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. The deputies attempted to place her under protective custody, but ended up arresting her after she kicked one of the deputies. The officials placed her in the Pinellas County Jail on March 16, 2009, on a charge of battery on a law enforcement officer.
Deputies and the medical staff did not properly examine Mrs. DeGraw. Nurses did not ensure she received her medication.
Jennifer DeGraw was pronounced dead at a local hospital on March 24, eight days after being found lying on a pile of bread, cereal, and feces on the floor of her jail cell. The night before, a detention deputy and a nurse were supposed to check on her periodically and document their visits to her.
However, videos inside the jail prove otherwise. The detention deputy and nurse failed to check on Jennifer DeGraw, according to documents filed by Laporte.
At the jail, Deputy Brian Diebold told the staff that DeGraw was a Baker Act detainee and was to be kept under close medical observation.
“By Law, a jail’s staff is required in Baker Act cases to contact a licensed mental health receiving facility immediately to send someone to examine the inmate,” says Laporte. “But that was not done. Jail administrators were not aware of the law.”
Jim Coats, the sheriff at that time, testified during the trial that he was under the impression that jail qualified as a licensed mental health receiving facility.
Laporte states his client, Jennifer DeGraw’s husband, checked on her repeatedly by calling the jail during her time there. Mr. DeGraw was concerned about the medical treatment that his wife was receiving.
“He called the jail five times over those eight days,” says Laporte. “They kept telling him she was where she needed to be, she was stable.”
The jail would not allow Mr. DeGraw to visit her, and she was not afforded a first appearance before a judge on the criminal charge.
“[Mr. DeGraw] offered to bring the medicine down to the jail,” Laporte said. “They told him absolutely not.”
Tampa Bay Times