Erie County will pay $90,000 to settle a lawsuit filed because a 54-year-old Holding Center inmate failed to receive crucial blood-pressure medicine while in the jail, suffered a stroke and then died months later.
The estate of Marguerite Arrindell, of Amherst, and the Vinal & Vinal law firm will split the sum, being paid to end the federal court matter against the county, Sheriff Timothy B. Howard, his Sheriff’s Office and two members of the jail’s medical staff.
A separate claim against the doctor involved with Arrindell’s care at the jail, Ronald M. Moscati, will continue in state court, according to court papers.
Arrindell was in the jail on drug-related charges for about a week in April 2008 when she repeatedly asked the jail’s medical personnel to renew her medicine. Before her confinement, she had been taking Avalide and Clonidine, but the medical staff ordered only Avalide, court papers indicate.
An inmate in a nearby cell, Tania Harzynski, provided a statement saying she heard Arrindell seek the medication on a few occasions. Then one evening in late April she heard Arrindell breathing erratically in her sleep. Harzynski called to a deputy on his rounds, who found Arrindell on the floor of her cell with her eyes open but incontinent and unable to speak.
She was moved to Erie County Medical Center and released from the sheriff’s custody, which meant that county taxpayers did not have to pay for her care. Also, Howard’s Jail Management Division was freed from guarding her there and from reporting her death months later, on July 17, 2008, to the State Commission of Correction. The commission did eventually investigate but closed the matter as a death from natural causes.
As a defendant in the case, Howard sat for a deposition centered on the attention he gives to the Holding Center’s medical care. He agreed that while the county Health Department provides the care with a mix of county employees and outside contractors, the sheriff is responsible for the medical care of prisoners. He said he had told the Holding Center superintendent to ensure that detainees continue to receive the medicines they are on when they arrive, but he was vague when asked whether he had ever followed up over the years.
Howard also said he could not remember if he ever reviewed the policy and procedure manual for the jail’s medical unit, nor did he recognize a report by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care completed in 2008 at Erie County’s request. It recommended numerous improvements to the health care and suicide-prevention efforts in Erie County’s detention facilities.
There is general optimism in county government that the Holding Center’s medical care is improving because of the changes outlined in an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department, which sued in 2009 to impose better conditions at the Holding Center and the Correctional Facility in Alden.
In court papers, attorney Jeanne M. Vinal indicated that Eustace Arrindell, administrator of his wife’s estate, was willing to settle the lawsuit in part because of the county’s accord with the Justice Department and the hiring of more nurses.
In 2009, the county paid $250,000 to settle a suit alleging that jail deputies used excessive force against Mark Curcie, who suffered a punctured lung and had to have his spleen removed.
In a case similar to Arrindell’s, the county paid $150,000 to settle a suit brought by Craig Beatty, who slipped into diabetic ketoacidosis after he was denied his medicine though he asked for it repeatedly. He nearly died.