Wrongful death suit filed against Jackson County Jail, others
The daughter of a man who died while in custody at the Jackson County Jail has filed a wrongful death suit in U.S. District Court against the county, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, jail inmate medical care contractor Wellpath LLC, and a list of people — including Sheriff Nathan Sickler, employees of the jail and the medical corporation — physically and potentially associated with the incident.
Carl George Sullivant, 46, of Eagle Point, died in February 2020 of a brain hemorrhage while being held in the jail.
The complaint, filed Jan. 21, said deputies asked medical staff to conduct a medical assessment on Sullivant on the day of his arrival, Feb. 12, 2020. He was going to be sentenced for possession and delivery of heroin in less than a week.
“Instead of providing necessary and timely care for Mr. Sullivant’s serious medical need, Wellpath and Jackson County were deliberately indifferent to his worsening symptoms until his brain bleed was so advanced that it was not treatable,” the complaint stated.
A Wellpath nurse “saw him but took no vital signs,” the complaint stated. “Sullivant denied he was detoxing from drugs. She noted an order for ibuprofen and ‘follow up with a provider,’ and assigned him to a bottom bunk.”
Sullivant was referred for a visit with a nurse-practitioner the next day “due to his appearance on arrival.”
The following day, Feb. 14, 2020, Sullivant was provided with an acute care visit. He complained about suffering chest pain, and his blood pressure measured 178/98. He was prescribed hypertension medications and slated to have chest x-rays and an electrocardiogram.
One of the nurses said to an investigator she was familiar with Sullivant’s blood pressure situation. She had “the same concerns for every time he (Sullivant) is in jail” and “knew he didn’t take his medications while out of jail.”
Another nurse said Sullivant “‘was not compliant with the ECG’ because he could not hold still and was ‘very restless’. He said he did not feel well.”
Later that same day, either Sullivant or another inmate told a medical technician that Sullivant wasn’t able to see three feet in front of him.
Things became even worse during the evening, according to the complaint.
Several inmates near Sullivant started banging items in their cells to get the attention of deputies because of his condition and told deputies he wasn’t doing well.
“He was confused and not himself. He had wandered naked out of the shower and into the wrong cell. He needed help to put his pants on. He had lost his vision,” the complaint said. Deputies arrived and “saw that he looked confused. Sullivant said, ‘I can’t see anything.’”
He explained to the deputies that he had fallen asleep and awakened to discover he couldn’t see. The deputies called for a nurse. He told the nurse that he couldn’t tell whether “his eyes were open or shut.”
The nurse said, “even if he can’t see, he knows if his eyes are open or shut,” and told deputies that his vital signs “looked fine.”
According to the complaint, inmates alleged the nurse also said Sullivant was “faking it” and that she didn’t pass along the information about his vision loss and confusion to any other medical provider.
“She did not call for Mr. Sullivant to be taken to the emergency room. She sent Sullivant by wheelchair to an observation room on the first floor,” the complaint stated.
The nurse is said to have left this information: “states he can’t see. Keep in holding cell until medical clears him.”
There are no medical personnel in the jail from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. During this period, deputies check on these inmates about once an hour.
On first check at 10:30 p.m., Sullivant was talking to himself, and about an hour later was seen awake and rolling around.
Just after midnight on Feb. 15, 2020, he was “awake and appeared to have a bloody nose.” Within about a half-hour, someone — either a deputy or the nurse — noted that Sullivant was not responsive.
He was “clinching hard and started to shake, shaking for less than a minute. Breathing loudly.”
The complaint stated that Sullivant had an apparent seizure, was biting his lip and tongue throughout the night and wiping blood on himself.
“Deputies did not request medical assistance of any kind,” the complaint stated.
It was recorded that at 5:23 a.m. there was blood on Sullivant’s face.
The deputy and nurse “cleaned his face off but were unable to take Mr. Sullvant’s vital signs. Mr. Sullivant refused medications. Still no one requested medical assistance,” the complaint noted.
At 7 a.m., the nurse reported to have looked into the cell while passing by.
“She did not enter the cell, speak to Mr. Sullivant, or otherwise perform any assessment” and noted in his chart that he was “in no obvious need of immediate medical attention,” the complaint said.
The complaint then described jail video taken less than a half-hour later showing Sullivant “stumbling around his cell. He fell and hit a cement bench. He collapsed onto the floor, bleeding.”
Another deputy found him on his side and on the floor of his cell, “with a sheet under his head, soaked in blood.”
A second deputy arrived and the two called for a medical evaluation. The nurse and a medical technician found him barely responsive.
One of the deputies reviewed the video of Sullivant’s fall and contacted a sergeant to ask whether they should seek emergency medical services. Paramedics were summoned and took over care of Sullivant. They sent him to Rogue Regional Medical Center via Mercy Flights.
Hospital personnel determined that Sullivant had a “large brain bleed that, by that time, he couldn’t survive,” the complaint said.
He was put on life support while his family was contacted and he died later that day.
The Oregon Medical Examiner determined Sullivant’s brain bleed had been occurring before his fall, potentially for a day or even longer.
“The symptoms he exhibited, including a sudden inability to see, confusion and seizures, in addition to his extremely high blood pressure, are all signs of a potential stroke or neurological disorder,” the complaint asserts. “If Mr. Sullivant had received timely and appropriate medical care when he reported his symptoms, the condition could have been reversed or avoided.”
Jennifer Middleton of Johnson, Johnson Lucas & Middleton, one of the lawyers representing Sullivant’s daughter, Carli Sullivant, said her client wants Wellpath “to improve how it treats people.”
The complaint also listed five earlier deaths in other county jails across Oregon that use Wellpath to provide medical care, starting in 2017, to further illustrate the assertion that the corporation “has a history of deliberate indifference.”
Jackson County declined to comment because the legal matter is ongoing. Wellpath didn’t respond to an email inquiry. The company’s phone system wouldn’t accept transfer requests to an operator.
Reach reporter Terri Harber at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-776-4468.