Washington County seeks to dismiss suit over jail death
Attorneys for Washington County have asked a federal court to dismiss a $20 million lawsuit, which alleges the county did nothing to stop a 26-year-old Washington County woman from dying in the Washington County Jail.
Madaline Pitkin was arrested in 2014 and lodged in the Washington County Jail. She died in custody a week later from complications due to heroin addiction. In November, Pitkin's parents filed a lawsuit claiming that Pitkin had requested help from medical staff at the jail several times, but was never treated for her withdrawal symptoms.
In February, the county filed a response to the lawsuit, denying many of its key claims.
The lawsuit — which names Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett, former jail health care provider Corizon Health and several Corizon doctors and nurses as defendants — alleges that medical staff at the jail did nothing despite Pitkin's repeated requests for help while she detoxed from a heroin addiction.
Pitkin was found dead in her cell on April 28, 2014, after seven days in the Washington County Jail.
Corizon is the nation's largest privately held prison healthcare contractor. Washington County had contracted with Corizon for medical services since it opened the jail in 1998, but switched providers after Pitkins' death.
Pitkin was arrested by Tualatin police on April 16, 2014 for unlawful possession of heroin. She was booked into the Washington County Jail in Hillsboro and told jail staff that she recently taken heroin and was experiencing withdrawal. A nurse told Pitkin that she would need to fill out a medical request form in order to communicate with the jail's medical staff.
Over the next seven days, Pitkin submitted at least four health care request forms seeking help, the lawsuit claims, but none ever resulted in an exam, evaluation or any other contact with medical staff.
By her fifth day in jail, April 21, the lawsuit claimed that Pitkin was unable to walk more than a few feet at a time, and would squat on the floor when waiting in line. The following day, she filled out a fourth request for medical help.
"I feel like I am very close to death," she wrote. "Can't hear, seeing lights, hearing voices. Please help me."
Deputies at the jail were also concerned about Pitkin's health, according to the lawsuit. The day before Pitkin died, a deputy in the jail made multiple calls to medical staff asking that they examine Pitkin, and brought her to Corizon staff to get her treated. According to the lawsuit, Corizon's only doctor in the jail had been fired earlier that day and there was no one available to examine her.
When a nurse went to check on Pitkin the following day, they found her lying on the floor, twitching. Fluid leaked from her nose and mouth. She died at the scene.
An investigation into Pitkin's death found no criminal wrongdoing, though the county did find that Corizon failed to staff the jail with a registered nurse 20 percent of the time they were required to.
In its written response filed Feb. 17, the county denied that Pitkin appeared to be weak on surveillance footage, saying that the video would speak for itself.
"The contents of the video are self-evident and need no interpretation, and therefore, County Defendants neither admit nor deny those allegations asserting what the videos show or do not show throughout the allegations in their Complaint," the county wrote. "…County Defendants admit that video surveillance exists, but deny the characterization of such video as alleged (in the lawsuit)."
Pitkin's death was first detailed by The Oregonian last year.
In a statement released last year, the Sheriff's Office said that Pitkin deserved better treatment than she received, which officials blamed on Corizon.
"The sheriff was shocked and dismayed to learn of Corizon's apparent lack of response to her written requests for medical help," the Sheriff's Office said.
After the Pitkin family filed its lawsuit, the Sheriff's Office said that it was standing with the family,and intended to file a lawsuit of its own against Corizon for the mishandling of the incident.
By Geoff Pursinger
Associate Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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