Two more lawsuits filed against Hamilton County involving Silverdale

Staff photo / Silverdale Detention Center is seen on Dec. 29, 2020, in Chattanooga.
Staff photo / Silverdale Detention Center is seen on Dec. 29, 2020, in Chattanooga.

Hamilton County and former Sheriff Jim Hammond are facing two more civil rights lawsuits involving alleged medical neglect and sexual assault at the Silverdale Detention Center.

One of the lawsuits details an alleged 2022 rape of a female inmate by another inmate in a shared sleeping area. The suit alleges the inmate's Eighth Amendment rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment were violated when Silverdale staff ignored a noisy commotion and failed to provide her with housing where she would not be raped.

Another lawsuit filed last week alleges medical neglect after a man died while in custody in 2022. The lawsuit says his Eighth Amendments rights were violated by Silverdale staff failing to provide proper medical care for over two weeks, resulting in serious injury.

Hammond told the Chattanooga Times Free Press by phone that he doesn't remember the cases cited in the lawsuits and said it was up to the county legal team to handle it. The county declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

SEXUAL ASSAULT

Yolanda Holt is suing the county and former sheriff, alleging failure to provide adequate housing and failure of guards to stop the alleged assault. She filed the lawsuit in her own name rather than use Jane Doe or another pseudonym, as some sexual assault victims do.

Holt's attorney is Chattanooga attorney Brandy Spurgin-Floyd.

Holt, 53, was allegedly assaulted by another inmate on March 24, 2022. The other inmate has said the encounter was consensual, according to a sworn affidavit from the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office reporting the incident.

Citing overcrowding and a lack of beds at Silverdale, Holt said the two had been sharing a bed before the incident, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday. Before the assault, she said she took a pill from another inmate, thinking it was ibuprofen, and became sleepy.

The night of the alleged incident, Holt was "woken up by the laughter of other female inmates who were around her," the affidavit said.

"Ms. Holt was extremely disoriented and groggy, with her pants and boxer shorts at her knees and no idea where she was," the lawsuit said. "She had some pain between her legs, which she rated as a seven out of 10."

(READ MORE: Hamilton County district attorney calls Silverdale Detention Center 'sufficient' in response to video)

Holt reported the alleged assault to a correctional officer and was taken to Erlanger hospital, where a forensic examination revealed severe tissue damage, the lawsuit said.

"After her hospital visit, Ms. Holt was kept in isolation with another inmate who had been applauding and cheering on the rape," the lawsuit stated.

The lawsuit did not specify any dollar amount for monetary damages.

MEDICAL NEGLECT

In lawsuit filed last week by Tullahoma-based attorney Derek Jordan, the widow of a man who died while in the custody of the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office is also claiming medical neglect.

"Silverdale is notorious for its failure to provide proper medical care to inmates, inhuman living conditions and inmate-on-inmate violence," said the lawsuit filed on March 14 with the U.S. District Court.

Cristin Cornett, the wife of Brandon Cornett, seeks "justice on behalf of her husband and all other families with loved ones who entered Silverdale never to return home," according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit did not specify a dollar amount of damages.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County Sheriff's Office reviewing last year's jail deaths after discrepancy)

Cristin Cornett claims in the lawsuit that Silverdale staff told her they had everything they needed when she called to inform them of her husband's medical condition.

Brandon Cornett, 46, was arrested March 17, 2022, after Chattanooga police responded to a solo vehicle accident in the 4100 block of Delashmitt Road in Red Bank.

Cornett told officers he had neuropathy of the feet, a condition that can cause extreme pain and swelling, and was on a "plethora of medications," according to a sworn affidavit from the department.

Brandon Cornett was booked into Silverdale on April 5, 2022, according to the lawsuit.

On April 8, when Cristin Cornett spoke to her husband, "she could tell that something was terribly wrong," the lawsuit said. "He sounded incoherent, out of his mind."

Cristin Cornett called Silverdale several times to check in on her husband, according to the lawsuit, and even asked the staff to perform a wellness check.

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DOCUMENTS

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"Silverdale assured plaintiff that they would perform the wellness check and that they already had all the prescription medications her husband required," the lawsuit stated.

Prior to his death, Brandon Cornett complained he was living in feces and urine, according to the lawsuit.

"He was found unconscious in his cell with oozing sores on his legs and cloaked in an anti-suicide smock," according to the lawsuit.

Worn by high-risk inmates and mental health patients, an anti-suicide smock is a full-body vest-like garment meant to deter people from suicide or self harm, according to a manufacturer's website. It is also tear-resistant and fire-retardant.

"Medical records obtained by plaintiff after her husband's death show that he was not seen by a doctor until April 24, 2022, the day before he died," the lawsuit said.

The Sheriff's Office has maintained everyone receives a medical screening and that medical staff is available 24 hours a day.

Contact La Shawn Pagán at lpagan@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476.

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