Sheriff’s Office sued over 2004 prisoner death

The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office is the target of a wrongful-death suit concerning the July 2004 death of Marvis Gail Davidson in the Buncombe County Detention Facility. Bobby Medford, since convicted on federal corruption charges, was sheriff then.

Under fire: Allegations of a wrongful death in 2004 at the Buncombe County Detention Facility are behind a new lawsuit targeting the Sheriff’s Office. Photo By Jonathan Welch

April Nicole Welch, Davidson’s daughter and the administrator of her estate, filed the lawsuit Aug. 8. It alleges that after Davidson’s arrest, she was repeatedly denied medical care for conditions related to diabetes, which jail officials knew she had because it was noted in her records during a previous incarceration.

“As her condition deteriorated and the associated pain grew to intolerable levels—particularly in the days immediately preceding her death—Ms. Davidson and fellow inmates of her cell repeatedly beseeched detention officers monitoring Ms. Davidson,” the lawsuit alleges, adding that “detention officers ignored Ms. Davidson’s continuous cries for help even as she lay writhing and screaming on the floor in pain.” The lawsuit accuses the Sheriff’s Office of manifesting “a heedless indifference to, or reckless disregard of, Ms. Davidson’s safety and well-being.”

The autopsy report revealed that Davidson died of a condition known as “dead gut,” which is sometimes related to diabetes. In 2005, a jail employee filed complaints about Davidson’s treatment.

The lawsuit seeks a trial by jury and at least $30,000 in damages, plus attorney and court costs. It names current Sheriff Van Duncan—in his official capacity only—and the Sheriff’s Office. It also targets the South Dakota-based Western Surety Co., which insures both the Sheriff’s Office and the jail.

Lt. Ross Dillingham, the sheriff’s public-affairs officer, said he had no comment on how his office would respond to the lawsuit, emphasizing that the incident took place under the previous administration. “Sheriff Duncan in no way had any affiliation with the office then, or any control over what happened in the jail in 2004,” Dillingham told Xpress.

Davidson’s death was not the only controversy related to prisoner treatment during Medford’s tenure—or the only inmate death.

Xpress has previously reported on the September 2001 arrest of Joey Max Rogers for driving his lawnmower while drunk. After being taken into custody and placed in a locked room, he was found a half-hour later with his neck broken (see “High Pressure Zone,” May 18, 2005 Xpress).

Also in 2001, Carlos Payne was denied medication for high blood pressure and wound up in the hospital due to related conditions. In 2005, the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union called attention to squalid conditions and overcrowding at the jail. Dillingham admits that “we still have an issue with the number of inmates.”

At the other end of the spectrum, a former jail employee alleged that in 2000, Medford’s son, Brian Medford, received preferential treatment while serving time for a DWI conviction.

But things have changed, an e-mail from Capt. Jason Honeycutt, the current jail supervisor, asserts. For one thing, the jail now provides 24-hour medical coverage for the inmates.

As for records, Honeycutt said the jail has implemented a new system known as “the pipe.” Instead of officers manually logging when they do their rounds to check on inmates, they use an electronic verification system. “The information cannot be skewed, which allows us to hold the officers completely accountable for their rounds,” he said.

And there are more of those rounds now, with inmates in booking getting checked on four times an hour—more than state law requires, notes Dillingham.

“You could say we have gone above and beyond to ensure the safety of the inmates at the most crucial time of their incarceration,” wrote Honeycutt.

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6 thoughts on “Sheriff’s Office sued over 2004 prisoner death

  1. LOKEL

    How EXACTLY does a man, locked in a cell, alone, with no fixtures, doorknobs, bench or chair, end up dead with a broken neck?

  2. Gary

    Anytime you give power and there is not any accountability in place, it easily corrupts. Coming from NYC, I have seen a badge do plenty of harm along with good. In the child support court months ago, I witnessed a man who just came out of chemotherapy, almost died, etc. and (let me be political for a minute…) everyone in the courtroom but the waiting crowd and his attorney were snickering at him & mocking him. Simple false balances and no honor for people in general, criminal record or not, nice clothes or not, family friend or not. These people do more harm than good. They pass false judgments and lie at convenience with no accountability at all. They wrongly think it will never catch up with them. Get a Bible quick!!! Somebody needs to read the book of Proverbs again!

    Several years after I left NYC, my dad (FDNY Supervising Fire Marshall – Bklyn) sent me some articles from the “Daily News” paper. The front page was about a dozen police officers from the 72nd Precinct. in Brooklyn (many of them family friends) who had numerous severe charges on them including everything from extortion, robbery, burglary, drug dealing, violence, kidnapping, murder… some dating many years back.

    I know good Correction Officers, Police Officers, Judges, Sheriffs, etc. in Buncombe County that actually look into the issue and contribute positively to the situation the best they know how. I know some that are also known for very bad judgment. I have seen Ross Dillingham at work and he seems very committed and good. It is hard to be good with power & look at people without prejudice… and I do commend their integrity. Dealing with 1000’s of people regularly and seeing each one as an individual is very difficult. I also know that officers anywhere in the world can become very abusive and corrupt with a badge and a gun, especially if internal affairs is not doing their job and no overseer is present. Wasn’t “good cop, bad cop” supposed to be only for interrogations and confessions only? Wasn’t it NWA years ago who exposed through rap music what was going on in Los Angeles / Compton legal system? Maybe Asheville North Carolina is about due?? Good Law Enforcers do not allow corrupt law enforcers to do wrong and ultimately counteract the American justice and honor we supposedly stand for.

  3. david goliath

    I would like the name of the attorney Ms Welch has retained.

  4. Candice Blakeslee

    Ms. Welch has retained Philip Roth of Miller Marshall Roth.

    Do you have any information regarding the incarceration or death of Ms. Davidson? Feel free to contact me to discuss at (828) 281-2100 or cblakeslee@mmrlawfirm.com

    Candice Blakeslee
    Paralegal to Philip Roth

  5. Alan S.

    Health in prisons is a very serious and difficult issue. In many prisons the health care standards are sub par, while in others it’s better than what most could get on the outside. The two real problems are setting enforceable standards and policies. Having the only enforcement mechanism be the possible threat of lawsuits is not the right way to go, and allowing treatment to depend on the whims of prison guards isn’t a good solution either. It’s a very tough balancing act.

    Alan S.
    Los Angeles DUI lawyer

  6. Tiffany Wester

    I was raised by Joey Rogers! He was the sweetest man ever and this still weighs heavily on my mind. Yes he developed a drinking issue our family sent him to jail to sober up and reflect not DIE! I remember all events very vividly! The officers who arrested him were very rude and rough. He was arrested before dark and we were not notified of his death until after 2 am on 10/22/01. I would love any help to figure out who did this to him.

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