Attorney Stan Doerrer recently assisted with a case arising from the in-custody death of 26 year old Brendon Sullins, at RSW Regional Jail in Virginia. After Mr. Sullins died in jail custody in February, 2016, Warren County Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron issued a prepared statement sent to media saying that an autopsy by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner lead to the conclusion that Sullins’ death on Feb. 13 was a result of “natural causes” and that there was no evidence of any criminal action.
But video of Brendon’s cell showed that his death was far from natural.
While Brendon communicated to the Jail’s medical staff, shortly after arrival on February 10, 2016, that he had a heroin habit and would be going through heroin withdrawal, Defendants failed to take any meaningful action and demonstrated deliberate indifference to Brendon’s serious medical need. Besides placing him in a video monitored medical cell and placing him on the jail’s withdrawal protocol, starting on February 11, 2016, jail medical staff failed to monitor or assess him at all after February 12, 2016, when his vital signs were last taken. As his condition became increasingly worse and more obvious, he was ignored by jail officers and medical providers. Jail corrections and medical staff allowed Brendon to suffer on camera for two days without the medical treatment necessary to prevent him from dehydrating due to the near constant diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting from which he suffered. Mr. Sullins’ intense, agonizing suffering, and ultimate death, as well as defendants’ deliberate indifference, was recorded on camera. Shortly before his death, having suffered for almost two days, Brendon collapsed on the floor with his lower body fully exposed. One corrections officer reported this fact to the jail nurse, but did nothing when she ignored Brendon’s condition after looking at him on the monitor. Instead, he returned to the cell for just long enough to pass on the nurse’s message to “put your pants back on” and left –never to check on him again. Minutes later, Brendon was dead. Nobody discovered him for over two hours at which time his body was stiff from rigor mortis. Proper medical assessment throughout his incarceration, prompt medical care, and a simple infusion of intravenous fluids, a regularly prescribed and effective medical treatment for dehydration, would have saved Brendon’s life. This is the treatment that any basically-trained nurse or doctor would administer in the face of manifest extreme dehydration, yet it was never given to Brendon. The Complaint alleged civil rights violations against the RSW Regional Jail, its Superintendent, and the individual corrections and medical staff who ignored Brendon’s suffering. It also alleged state law gross negligence and negligence claims against the jail staff.
Ultimately, due in large part to the existence of the graphic video, the case was settled shortly after filing for a confidential amount. I am proud to have assisted Brendon’s loved ones in obtaining some measure of closure.