A new federal lawsuit details alleged medical neglect and claims it led to the death of a Chattanooga woman five days into a 45-day sentence at the Silverdale Detention Center.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga, details the last days of Carol Rene White's life and is asking for $10 million in compensatory damages and another $10 million in punitive damages. The suit names Hamilton County, former Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond and Quality Correctional Health Care as defendants, along with three nurses.
"What makes Mrs. White's case different from the other recently filed cases is twofold," Chattanooga attorney Janie Varnell said in an email to the Chattanooga Times Free Press about the filing.
"First, there was a very specific court order out of Hamilton County Criminal Court for specific medications that Silverdale was supposed to give to Mrs. White, which Silverdale did not follow," Varnell said. "Second, Mrs. White was given a lethal dose of medication she was never prescribed. It was not street drugs but actual medication which killed her. Hamilton County then investigated her death, and their own employees and medical providers have provided zero answers to the family."
Former Sheriff Jim Hammond, who retired Aug. 31, declined to comment on pending litigation and referred any inquiries to the county attorney, who also declined to comment citing pending litigation.
Varnell's firm, Davis and Hoss, joined attorney Brandy Spurgin-Floyd, who recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of her client, Yolanda Holt, who claimed she was sexually assaulted at Silverdale, and attorney Derek Jordan, who has filed multiple lawsuits citing inhumane conditions and medical neglect, in bringing suits involving the Hamilton County facility.
On May 11, White entered a guilty plea for two DUIs before Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Tom Greenholtz, who hand-wrote instructions on her sentencing order that her medications be given to her as prescribed, as previously reported by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
"During the plea hearing in open court, Mrs. White expressed her fear about serving her sentence at Silverdale because she needed her daily medication," the lawsuit said. "She advised that her doctor warned her not to stop taking her medication under any circumstances. Mrs. White was prescribed divalproex for seizure prevention, hydroxyzine for sleep assistance and levothyroxine for thyroid issues. Further, Mrs. White had been prescribed methadone for over 10 years and was using methadone daily in compliance with her doctor's orders."
According to the lawsuit, White asked to serve the first 20 days of her sentence in a drug rehabilitation facility but the judge declined.
"White went into custody immediately following her plea," according to the lawsuit.
Greenholtz did address her concerns and signed an order that White be allowed her medication while serving her sentence.
"Judge Greenholtz entered a custody order to be delivered to Silverdale via email which clearly required Silverdale to dispense specific medication to Mrs. White," the lawsuit said, adding that the order and White's medications — in a sealed bag — were sent to Silverdale on May 11.
Despite the Sheriff's Office repeatedly stating that medical staff at Silverdale is available 24 hours a day, White called her mother-in-law and informed her there wasn't a nurse on shift, according to the lawsuit.
"At approximately 5:55 p.m. on May 11, 2022, Mrs. White called her mother-in-law, Donna White, from Silverdale," the lawsuit said. "She reported to Donna that she had not yet been booked and had not been seen by a medical provider for her initial evaluation. She further stated that 'there wasn't a nurse on duty.' Mrs. White was reportedly concerned about potentially not receiving her medication."
White was booked into Silverdale and assigned to a housing unit almost 24 hours after entering the facility's doors, according to the lawsuit.
During the health screening, the nurse noted that White had mental health conditions, medications she needed to take on a daily basis and that she had a "contusion," according to the lawsuit.
"Mrs. White was suffering from obvious and serious medical conditions known to all defendants and to the laypersons charged with her care," the lawsuit said.
Medical notes showed that medical staff ignored the judge's order, according to the lawsuit.
As her condition worsened, White, with the help of other women in her housing unit, then moved her cot closer to a window, so she could easily ask the staff for help, according to the lawsuit.
Witnesses said White complained of "hearing voices" and "begged for her medications," according to the lawsuit
"The overwhelming response from Silverdale employees was an instruction to Mrs. White to 'get over it'," the lawsuit said.
On May 16, inmates in White's housing unit noticed she was not breathing and her skin had turned blue, according to the lawsuit.
"Inmates immediately began to call for help and began to give Mrs. White CPR," the lawsuit said. "Inmates continued to administer CPR for approximately 15 minutes before any Silverdale employees arrived to help."
It took an estimated 30 minutes for an ambulance to arrive at Silverdale, according to the lawsuit.
"Carol White was pronounced dead on arrival at Erlanger hospital," the lawsuit stated.
An autopsy report by the Hamilton County medical examiner determined the levels of medications in White's system were below the therapeutic level. He further noted that her cause of death was a "combined toxicity, methadone and olanzapine," according to the report.
White was not prescribed olanzapine.
"Upon information and belief, olanzapine is an antipsychotic medication that can treat severe mental health conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar. It is also known as Zyprexa and is a prescription drug," the lawsuit said. "It is not a controlled substance, nor is it a common street drug. There is no medical record which explains why Mrs. White received olanzapine from the defendants or Silverdale staff or why olanzapine would be in her system at all."
White's family is seeking justice and wants to continue to tell their story, according to Varnell.
"The issues cited in previous complaints are still present, and we are hopeful for meaningful change in the future," Varnell said. "Mrs. White's family looks forward to their story being heard and for justice to be served."
Contact La Shawn Pagán at email@example.com or 423-757-6476.