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Prison Guards and Jail Law Enforcement Must Take Care of Inmates


As a general rule, police cannot be sued for failing to help or assist you in an emergency situation. They of course almost always will, as that is their job. But lawsuits that say that an officer did not respond in the right way, or that an officer did not take enough action, are difficult to prove.

Once You are in Custody

However, things are different once you are in custody—and that includes when you are incarcerated, either temporarily (for example, you are just arrested, or are awaiting bail) or for a long, set period of time (such as when you are serving a sentence).

Once the state undertakes to house you, the state also undertakes the duty to keep you safe. This is why lawsuits can be brought against law enforcement agencies that do not protect you from violence in prison.  The recent death of an inmate in Massachusetts illustrates the duties and obligations that the state has to protect its inmates from known dangers, and to provide its inmates appropriate medical care and treatment.

Woman’s Pleas for Medical Help are Ignored

A young woman who had a history of drug and opioid abuse was arrested in Springfield, Massachusetts. At the police station, video clearly shows her telling law enforcement that she was feeling chest pain, that it feels like her chest is “caving in,” and that she needed water and that she may need to go to a hospital. She was limping and clutching at her chest. However, she was not taken to a hospital, and her requests went unheeded. Rather, she was booked and admitted into jail.

According to a lawsuit filed by the woman’s family, she was told by law enforcement that it was her fault for feeling the way she did, and that law enforcement blamed her for using drugs.

As her condition worsened, other detainees were the ones to notice, and alert jail staff and guards. She eventually was taken to a hospital, in severe distress. She eventually died from a heart infection that would have and should have been otherwise treatable.

Dealing With Addiction

The case is illustrative again of how many police departments are not prepared to deal with “special populations,” which can include the elderly, the very young, the mentally handicapped, or here, someone with a severe drug (opioid) problem or addiction.  Here, the officers apparently gave the woman medicine and drugs used to treat people who were overdosing on drugs, which were useless to help her with her heart condition.

Other Remedies That Are Available

Police agencies also must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which can provide a separate form of liability when police departments fail to assist or accommodate the disabled. Substance abuse is a disorder that qualifies for protection under the ADA.

If medical attention is given, but the attention is improper or inadequate, the inmate may also have a claim under state medical malpractice laws.

Contact the Alabama police misconduct attorneys at Lasseter Law Firm today to help you if you have been a victim of police misconduct of any kind.


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