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Allegany County sued over man’s death after release from jail


Attorney Charles N. Curlett Jr., a partner at Rosenberg Martin Greenberg LLP in Baltimore, represents the widow of James Stevens, who died less than 20 hours after he was released from the Allegany County Detention Center in 2016. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

The widow of a Cumberland man who died shortly after his release from the local jail claims in a lawsuit that staff members were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs and caused his death.

James Stevens died less than 20 hours after he was released from the Allegany County Detention Center in 2016, according to the complaint, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Stevens had turned himself in late on Thanksgiving night pursuant to a warrant, but, due to the holiday, he wound up being detained for days while waiting for a bond hearing. He died the following Tuesday.

Nearly three years later, his wife, Shelly Stevens, “is missing her husband and continues to seek answers as to why he is no longer with her,” attorney Charles N. Curlett Jr. said Tuesday.

Stevens, 44, had multiple health problems, including a history of congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, asthma, sleep apnea and diabetes, according to the complaint, which added that Stevens used insulin and oxygen, took multiple prescription medications and was recovering from treatment for leg injuries.

Despite his health problems, Stevens was in stable condition when he surrendered at the detention center, according to the complaint. Unaware that Friday was a court holiday, Stevens expected to be presented before a judge the following morning, the complaint said.

According to the complaint, Stevens was given a medical screening, at which he reported his medications and history of drug and alcohol use and said he was experiencing pain; the screening also revealed he had high blood pressure.

Stevens was referred for withdrawal treatments but was placed in the general population instead of in medical housing or isolation, according to the complaint, which said a doctor did not see Stevens but issued orders regarding his treatment.

Stevens’ health began to noticeably deteriorate the day after his intake and he was in critical condition by that night, but no doctor was consulted, according to the complaint.

“As we allege in the complaint, the detention center was not operating in a way that would ensure that prisoners or detainees such as Mr. Stevens would receive emergency medical care when they needed it, and that failure led directly to his death,” said Curlett, partner at Rosenberg Martin Greenberg LLP in Baltimore.

Over the weekend, staff continued to monitor Stevens, who was not seen by a judge until Monday evening, when he posted bond and was released without a medical examination or any advice about his condition other than instructions to follow up with his doctors or an emergency room, according to the complaint. His wife made an appointment with his primary care provider for Wednesday morning, the earliest slot available, the complaint said.

Stevens’ wife left the house to attend a meeting Tuesday and returned that evening to find her husband dead, according to the complaint, which said a partial autopsy concluded the cause of death was heart failure.

The lawsuit alleges that Stevens should have been taken to a hospital but that detention center personnel were discouraged from transporting inmates for off-site medical care to save costs. The county’s contract with medical care contractor Correct Care Solutions did not cover transportation, according to the complaint.

“The evidence suggests that there was a strong preference to avoid seeking medical attention at the expense of the safety and well-being of the detainees and that was a cost-based decision, not a decision based upon ensuring that they would meet the obligation to ensure the welfare of the detainees,” Curlett said.

Curlett said public statements made by officials about keeping costs down by minimizing the transportation of detainees to hospitals “drew particular concern” as attorneys investigated.

The lawsuit names the Allegany County Board of Commissioners, Sheriff Craig Robertson, detention center official R. Lee Cutter, doctors and nurses and Correct Care Solutions and alleges violations of the state and federal constitutions, negligence and wrongful death.

County Attorney William M. Rudd was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.

The case is Shelly Kaye Stevens v. Board of County Commissioners for Allegany County, Maryland et al., 1:19-cv-03368.

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