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.
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.