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Federal suit filed by family of man who died in SFC jail

The family of William Ames III have filed a lawsuit against St. Francois County following his death in jail in November. 

The family of a man who died in the St. Francois County Jail on Nov. 11 has filed a civil lawsuit in the U.S. Eastern District Court of Missouri against St. Francois County, St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department and members of the jail staff.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the estate of William D. Ames III, and William Ames Jr. and Laurie Braun, next of kin of the deceased, by Attorney Vonne Karraker on Feb. 1.

The lawsuit alleges that “in 2004, William Ames III became disabled after a traumatic brain injury and at that time he began to suffer from seizures and taking medications to control the seizures three times daily and that, according to the court documents, the medication was controlling the seizures.”

According to the court document, Ames had been “clean and sober for nearly 14 years when he had ran into some old acquaintances in the months prior to his death and began using controlled substances again.”

It alleges that on Nov. 8, 2018, Ames was arrested following a traffic stop and was incarcerated at the St. Francois County Jail. The court document also alleges that during the traffic stop, Ames had swallowed a plastic bag containing “flakka,” a street drug that combines crystal meth, cocaine and bath salts. 

The suit alleges that nurses at the St. Francois County Jail did not conduct a medical examination of Ames on Nov. 8 or Nov. 9, and did not administer his anti-seizure medications. The report also alleges that Ames was not arraigned between the dates of Nov. 8 and Nov. 11 and his jail status remained that of a “pretrial detainee” and that no charges had been filed or tickets issued on Nov. 8.

According to the court document, two sheriff's department employees began working their regular shift at 11 p.m. on Nov. 9 and engaged in conversation with Ames through the window of his cell while making rounds on the unit at which time they moved Ames to a jail cell containing a restraint chair.

The lawsuit alleges that one or more of the defendants forced Ames into the restraint chair where he was secured “fully restricting his movements and essentially rendering him helpless other than being able to call for help."

The court document states that “failure of the defendants to talk to Ames to determine what was wrong with him and/or their failure to seek medical or psychological evaluation and treatment was an inadequate response to Ames’ bizarre actions and behaviors.”

The report then refers to Bailey v. Feltmann, an 8th Circuit case from 2008, where “the court deemed that a pretrial detainee has a right to be free from deliberate indifferent denials to emergency medical care.”

The court document alleges that while Ames was in the restraining chair, two employees were made aware that Ames had swallowed a controlled substance during the traffic stop and four employees were made aware that he needed medical attention and his required prescription medication to control his seizures.

The document states that Ames missed taking at least seven regular doses of the anti-seizure medication. It also alleges that Ames and other inmates pleaded with jail staff to obtain help for Ames since he had swallowed the bag of “flakka."

The court document states that, “it is obvious to any reasonable person that if someone swallowed a bag containing a combination of drugs that included crystal methamphetamine, cocaine, and bath salts, that such person would need immediate medical treatment to remove the bag, hopefully before it bursts or breaks in the stomach, provided it had not already done so.”

According to the document, “anyone witnessing Mr. Ames' condition in the jail would have recognized the need for medical attention and yet (the jail staff members) did nothing in response.”

The court document states that Ames’ girlfriend came to visit him on Nov. 9 and brought a newly-filled prescription, but was turned away by jail employees without being able to deliver the medication.

The lawsuit alleges that St. Francois County Sheriff’s Department policy (written or simply custom or practice) and the defendants, acting on the policy, provide no medical personnel to evaluate detainees on weekends or evenings.

The court documents states that, “(the jail administrator) stated to plaintiff Laurie Braun and to at least one other witness that Ames ‘probably did not get his medications.’”

Also, it alleges that (the administrator) testified under oath in an unrelated criminal case that inmates of the county jail do not receive their prescription medications on evenings or weekends as the jail has no one qualified who is available to administer said medications.

The lawsuit alleges that (the administrator), the jail, and the sheriff’s department had prior knowledge of Ames’ medical condition as he had been previously incarcerated at the jail and also that (the other staff members listed in the suit) had knowledge of Ames’ condition due to their interaction with Ames’ girlfriend who attempted to delivery his anti-seizure medications.

The lawsuit also alleges that the jail LPN listed in the suit had prior knowledge of Ames’ condition as well, also because of prior interactions.

The court documents state that Ames was kept in restraints for more than 24 hours from Nov. 9 until his death in the early hours of Nov. 11 and that he was not permitted to stretch, check the circulation in his legs, or use the toilet. Ames “repeatedly cried, begged, and pleaded for medical assistance from Friday evening until the time of his death early Sunday morning.”

It alleges that the denial of freedom of movement and toilet privileges for 24 hours constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

According to the court documents, all cries for help from other inmates and Ames were ignored by the defendants and witnesses stated that they heard Ames “gargling, bucking, and convulsing in his chair.”

It alleges that despite sounds coming from Ames’ cell, jail staff did not call 911 and no medical personnel were contacted. It states video equipment in the cell was working and available to those working on monitors. The lawsuit also alleges that even lay persons would have been able to recognize the need for medical attention, but the defendants deliberately disregarded Ames’ medical needs.

Witnesses stated that one of the defendants was heard yelling at Ames in an attempt to quiet him for several minutes.

The lawsuit alleges that “(a staff member named in the suit) approached other inmates in adjoining cells and advised them that no one would ‘catch a case’ if they wanted to go into Ames’ cell and quiet him by physical assault” and that (that staffer) had left the cell doors unlocked for them to do so.

The court documents state that in the early morning hours of Nov. 11, witnesses in other cells reported hearing what they called “death rattles” coming from Ames’ cell and that Ames became quiet for about one hour before the deputies checked on him and called for emergency assistance. Ames is believed to have died between 1:30 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. on Nov. 11.

The autopsy states that Ames died from “acute methamphetamine intoxication and indicated that a plastic bag was found inside his stomach.”

According to court documents, the lawsuit alleges that if Ames had been taken to the hospital on Nov. 8 he could have had his stomach pumped, thus removing the “flakka” from his system.

The suit cites, in count one, violations of the eighth and fourteenth amendments for indifference to medical needs and failure to provide medical care. Count two alleges that St. Francois County and the sheriff’s department failed to train staff appropriately. Count three alleges violation of 42, U.S.C., for cruel and unusual punishment. Count four cites violations of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. In count five, the suit alleges wrongful death.

A hearing has not yet been scheduled. 

Sheriff Dan Bullock said that he could not comment at this time because the case is under litigation as well as still under investigation by the Missouri State Highway Patrol. 

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Matt McFarland is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3616, or at mmcfarland@dailyjournalonline.com.

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