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BEND, OR -- Former Deschutes County Sheriff Larry Blanton is expected to be deposed next week in an ongoing civil suit relating to the death at the jail, in December 2014. Attorneys for the family of Edwin Mays claim the Sheriff’s Office had a culture that allowed deputies to ignore clear signs of a meth overdose.  

 

Current Sheriff Shane Nelson is now also named in the suit. He tells KBND News, "Several positive changes came out of that, and some new equipment in our 

jail. But, one of the things that we learned from the DOJ report is how difficult it is to try and diagnose someone – They conferred with two medical experts in that situation and had determined that the deputies acted medically appropriately." Mays family attorney Jennifer Coughlin says the Department of Justice report did not say deputies acted "appropriately," but found that, due to the level of meth in his system, Mays would’ve likely died anyway. It's an assertion Coughlin disagrees with, as well. "Our experts say that methamphetamine overdoses come into ERs all the time and there are very specific things that ER facilities can do to sort of reverse the negatives associated with a methamphetamine overdose."

 

The suit also names Lt. Robert Trono, who was in charge of scheduling the team working at the jail that night. In the filing, Coughlin claims Lt. Trono should have scheduled a nurse for the shift. Sheriff Nelson tells KBND News, "We just did not have enough nurses for 24-hour/7-day a week coverage. And so, the move that we made, one of the positive changes that came out of that, was we went to having nurses on 24-hours a day, 7-days a week." But, Coughlin says the Sheriff’s Office had medical staff who could have helped Mays, if they’d been scheduled. "It’s not like they just had one nurse, and when she takes a vacation there’s just no nurse on duty. They had four other nurses, that when one nurse says months in advance she’s going on vacation, they could’ve scheduled one of those other four, maybe even five nurses that they had at that time, in December of 2014."

 
The suit outlines behavior by those on duty, including acknowledging the man had "split" his head "wide open" but no one called for medical attention. And, the suit claims, deputies waited nearly 30 minutes to call non-emergency dispatch after Mays was found unresponsive in his cell. She says Sheriff Nelson, who was jail commander at the time, created a culture that allowed staff to act inappropriately "I think that he should have probably terminated some of the deputies for their callous behavior and for failing to see the signs that somebody needed medical attention when they were clearly dying." 
 
Nelson acknowledges staff were caught on tape making fun of Mays’ behavior for several hours prior to his death. "We were unprofessional on that videotape and there was discipline that came out of that. We had two supervisors that were demoted and two Deputy Sheriffs who were disciplined. Look, we work with our Employees Association as we work through issues and discussion of consequences. There are due processes that you go through before you would hand out a consequence to an employee." The suit claims those consequences include a Sergeant demoted for making a derogatory statement about Lt. Trono, and a letter of reprimand for a deputy who imitated Mays’ erratic behavior. But, Coughlin says none were punished for failing to get Mays medical care. 
 
Aside for the more than $16 million sought by the family for civil and punitive damages, the attorney is also asking a federal judge to force the agency to make immediate policy changes. "We’re not just asking for money, we’re actually asking them to make changes so that hopefully this doesn’t happen to another person. We’ve asked for that detox clinic; that they [jail staff] all get immediate training in drug recognition and overdose, and the medical problems associated with those things – for methamphetamine and other narcotics." She says it's more than a wrongful death lawsuit; it’s also a civil rights case. Coughlin claims in the suit Mays was refused his right to receive appropriate medical care.
 
To listen to this week's full interview with Sheriff Shane Nelson, click HERE or visit our Podcast Page

 

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