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Hershal Dover
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Capt. Gabe Thomas

Bradley County jail/Gabe Thomas lawsuit.


Family members say a 53-year-old man who needed three insulin shots a day died in the Bradley County (Tenn.) Jail because he never received his medication.

They want $30 million from Bradley County's government and Gabe Thomas, then a captain of the jail, for allowing Hershel Dover to die in custody in March 2016, according to a recent lawsuit.

Dover was picked up March 16, 2016, on a probation violation, the day after he needed low blood sugar treatment at the hospital, the lawsuit says. Family members told the arresting officer Dover "suffered from severe diabetes, required insulin three times a day, and needed to eat a diet that did not spike his blood glucose," the suit says. The officer, in turn, assured them the information would be passed on to jail staff.

After visiting court March 17, 2016, Dover returned to custody and vomited blood, the lawsuit says. A nurse saw and placed him in a cell.

The next morning, at 6:05, emergency responders found Dover on the floor, pulseless and covered in vomit, the suit says. He had stopped breathing in the jail's booking area seven minutes earlier, according to Bradley County 911 records, and was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead at 7:22 a.m.

The autopsy showed Dover had "significantly elevated glucose in his blood" and had no food or medications in his stomach, the suit says. At the time, 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Crump asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to look into Dover's death. After officials said in September that Dover suffered from a fatal medical condition, the matter was closed.

Dover was one of three men to die in Bradley County Jail in 2016.

Billy Joe Rodgers died May 1 after jail personnel found him unresponsive following a fight with another inmate three days earlier. In September, Ralph Nelms, 41, hanged himself in his cell three days after he was arraigned for a string of burglaries. Earlier this month, his family filed a $5 million lawsuit in federal court, saying Nelms exhibited "unstable, erratic behaviors" that made him a suicide risk. But instead of a suicide-proof cell, the county allegedly left him in a booking area, "covering the window completely blocking their view into his cell."

The Dovers' attorney, Robin Flores, also touched upon the issue of booking areas by citing an August 2016 Tennessee Corrections Institute report in the lawsuit, which he filed Friday in Bradley County Circuit Court. Attempts to contact a county attorney or the Circuit Court were unsuccessful Monday.

According to that report, though, the Bradley County Jail struggled with overcrowding, understaffing, vague security check logs and suicide watch observation reports. Furthermore, personnel were keeping an average of 40 inmates in booking cells for many weeks on end. Typically, the lawsuit says, such cells are "only used for very short-term detentions."

Dover had been in the jail booking area, described by Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson as a big, temporary holding room with 15 beds, since the March 16 arrest for a misdemeanor probation violation in connection to a simple drug possession arrest made the summer before. He was placed on probation on Aug. 6, 2015, records show.

Dover's violations included a failure to make good efforts to pay more than $1,000 in court fines and probation fees and for not contacting his probation officer since Aug. 15, according to Bradley County General Sessions Court records. On March 17, 2016, his bond was set at $500.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.

This story was updated Feb. 20 at 10:55 p.m. with more information.