Jackson County Jail: Wrongdoing denied in inmate death

A contractor that provides medical care for inmates at the Jackson County Jail has denied allegations against it and an employee in a lawsuit that claims they violated the constitutional rights of an inmate suffering from an acute mental health crisis who died last year while incarcerated.

The inmate, Joshua McLemore, 29, died in August 2021 from multiple organ failure as a result of dehydration and malnutrition after being locked naked in a padded isolation cell for nearly “every second of every day for almost three straight weeks,” according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in New Albany last month by Melita Ladner, McLemore’s aunt and the court-appointed administrator of his estate.

McLemore, who had a history of schizophrenia and substance abuse, was arrested in July 2021 and held at the Jackson County Jail in Brownstown for allegedly pulling a nurse’s hair at Schneck Medical Center, where Seymour police had taken him for an evaluation after finding him “naked and incoherent” at a local residence, according to local court records.

The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that jail officials and the contractor, Advanced Correctional Healthcare Inc., exhibited “deliberate indifference” to McLemore’s health as it deteriorated and failed to intervene and secure the medical and mental health care he needed.

The complaint further alleges Advanced Correctional Healthcare failed to ensure that “systems, policies and practices of the jail were adequate to meet the serious health care needs of the jail’s population.”

Due to being in a “constant state of psychosis,” McLemore ate and drank very little while being held at the jail, losing 45 pounds in 20 days, the complaint states.

Jail officials allegedly didn’t notice McLemore needed medical attention until his condition was “so dire” that Schneck Medical Center did not have the clinical resources to treat him, the lawsuit states. McLemore instead had to be airlifted to a Cincinnati hospital, where he later died.

Advanced Correctional Healthcare responded to the lawsuit Tuesday, denying allegation it engaged in “unconstitutional customs and practices” at the jail and that medical care that McLemore received while behind bars “was not dictated or driven by” its policies, customs or systemic issues.

The company also defended the actions of its employee, Dr. Ronald Everson, who is described in the lawsuit as having “policymaking responsibilities” regarding medical care at the jail, arguing that he “was not personally involved” in the alleged constitutional violations and that the medical care he provided to McLemore “was reasonable and within the community standard of care,” according to the court filing.

The court filing only responds to allegations against the company and Everson. The other defendants — Jackson County; Jackson County Sheriff Rick Meyer; Jackson County Jail Commander Chris Everhart; Scott Ferguson, the night shift sergeant at the jail; and Milton Rutan, a licensed practical nurse at the jail — have yet to respond to the lawsuit.

The civil lawsuit comes after Jackson County Prosecutor Jeffrey Chalfant determined last year that no jail employees were criminally liable for McLemore’s death even though the inmate “most likely died due to a prolonged lack of attention” by jail staff, according to a 12-page report by Chalfant that concluded a nine-month investigation.

Headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, Advanced Correctional Healthcare describes itself on its website as “the nation’s largest jail contract management company” and claims to manage the medical care of more than 34,000 inmates at more than 370 correctional facilities in 21 states. The company also provides mental health services at the Bartholomew County Jail in Columbus.

The lawsuit filed is not the first time the company has been sued over the death of an inmate at the Jackson County Jail.

In 2006, the mother of an inmate who died of a heart attack at the jail filed a federal lawsuit against Advanced Correctional Healthcare and county officials, alleging they failed to provide adequate care when her son complained of chest pains and other symptoms at least twice before his death, The Tribune reported at the time.

The lawsuit also claimed the county’s use of Advanced Correctional Healthcare to reduce the costs of caring for inmates contributed to the inmate’s death by limiting access to doctor care and treatment.

An investigation by Indiana State Police found no criminal wrongdoing in the inmate’s death, though a Jackson County prosecutor who reviewed the investigation said at the time he believed jail employees were not adequately trained by the company and ambiguities in its protocol sheets made them hard to understand and implement properly.

That case was later settled out of court.

Several Jackson County officials also are facing a separate lawsuit in federal court over the death of another inmate less than a month before McLemore died.

The family of Ta’Neasha Chappell, 23, of Louisville, Kentucky, filed a lawsuit against several Jackson County Jail officials, alleging they failed to provide her with “prompt and adequate” medical care after she repeatedly vomited blood.

Chappell died at Scheck Medical Center in July 2021 while in the custody of the Jackson County Jail.

That case was still pending in federal court as of Wednesday morning.