Lawsuit claims man with schizophrenia died after kept naked, malnourished in solitary confinement

ByParadise Afshar and Andi Babineau, CNN, CNNWire
Thursday, April 13, 2023
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JACKSON COUNTY, Ind. -- An Indiana man with a history of schizophrenia died in the summer of 2021 due to organ failure following nearly three weeks in solitary confinement at a Jackson County jail, according to a newly filed lawsuit.

The lawsuit says jailers placed Joshua McLemore, 29, in a windowless, padded isolation cell, where he remained "confined, naked, alone, and in a constant state of psychosis for the next 20 days."

The suit, filed on behalf of McLemore's estate, is brought against Jackson County and its sheriff Rick Meyer, three jail employees, a doctor who oversaw clinical issues and procedures for the county and jail, and the company that provides health care services at the facility, Advanced Correctional Healthcare.

McLemore's cause of death was "multiple organ failure due to refusal to eat or drink with altered mental status due to untreated schizophrenia," according to a coroner's report provided by his attorney. A history of methamphetamine withdrawal was also noted as a contributing factor.

McLemore's death was the result of "multiple acts of indifference, as well as systemic and unconstitutional deficiencies" in the county's policies, practices and training programs, says the suit filed Wednesday in the US District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

Additionally, it says the jail did not sufficiently supervise or train its staff on how to handle serious medical or mental health care issues and accuses Advanced Correctional Healthcare of having insufficient training and inadequate staffing.

Advanced Correctional Healthcare told CNN in a statement that it was not allowed to disclose patient information, but that it "is proud to have a 95% client retention rate. ACH has a reputation for solving problems by doing the right thing the first time. In the last year, at least 52 patient lives have been saved."

CNN has reached out to the Jackson County Sheriff's Office for comment.

"Josh McLemore wasn't a criminal," Hank Balson, an attorney representing McLemore's estate, told CNN in a statement. "He was mentally ill and in crisis. He was out of touch with reality and needed help. This is glaringly obvious to anyone who watches the videos of him in his isolation cell."

According to the lawsuit, McLemore struggled with diagnosed schizophrenia and substance abuse and was in the midst of an "acute mental health crisis." He was taken to the emergency room to be evaluated after his apartment manager found him in his apartment, naked, confused, and disoriented.

McLemore was arrested for pulling a nurse's hair while in the emergency room, placed in handcuffs and leg shackles, and carried out of the hospital, naked except for his underwear, according to Balson. He was charged with battery against a public official and criminal mischief damage and taken to the Jackson County Jail on July 20, 2021, according to court documents.

Upon arriving at the jail, McLemore was taken to the padded isolation cell and remained there "almost continuously" until his death weeks later, the suit says. He was only taken from the cell four times, it said, mainly when jail employees would strap him to a chair and put him under a shower or clean his cell.

Though food was delivered to McLemore's cell door two or three times a day, he didn't retrieve the food or would dump some or all of it on the floor of his cell, which was littered with urine, feces, and torn food containers, according to the suit. While in the cell, McLemore lost nearly 45 pounds.

Guards kept the bathroom adjoining the cell locked for most of the time he was confined, the suit says.

Surveillance video included in the lawsuit shows McLemore naked in a cell that appears to have substances smeared on the walls and floor.

"By the time staff finally sent Josh to the hospital, his condition was so dire that the local hospital did not have the clinical resources to treat him and he had to be airlifted to a larger hospital in Cincinnati, where he died two days later," the lawsuit said.

A 2022 investigation by the Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney found that no crimes were committed by jail employees in relation to McLemore's death, according to CNN affiliate WDRB.

The lawsuit brings a claim for the violation of McLemore's 14th Amendment rights, accusing all defendants of "causing him unnecessary pain and suffering and, ultimately, an avoidable death." It is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

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