When he entered the Bradley County (Tennessee) Jail in the early morning hours of April 19, 2018, Brandon Gash was in a bad way.
The 46-year-old man, who had been arrested and booked around 2:30 a.m. with two other friends for methamphetamine possession, couldn't communicate with jailers, couldn't walk, was sweating profusely, couldn't put his hands on a wall to be strip searched and had high blood pressure. At one point, after deputies put him in a shower, they discovered Gash standing in the same place they'd left him, talking to himself, with no water running.
Suspecting that he'd consumed some of the meth, officials placed Gash in a medical room for regular observation. They tried to give him milk to upset his stomach and make him throw up whatever he might've swallowed. But Gash wouldn't take it, and ultimately, about six hours later, he became unresponsive and died shortly after officials took him to Tennova Healthcare.
Many details of Gash's tragic death come from a lawsuit filed April 19 in Chattanooga's U.S. District Court by attorney John Wolfe on behalf of the man's family members. In the suit, Wolfe said officials neglected Gash's medical care, violating the Eighth and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The suit names the Bradley County government; the jail's third-party medical care provider, Quality Correctional Healthcare; former Sheriff Eric Watson; and former Captain of Corrections Gabe Thomas.
"Watson often left the jail in a fearful neglect, willfully oblivious to its severe problems," Wolfe wrote. "As a distracted Sheriff of a burgeoning Tennessee County, Watson expended major official time and energies either fending off lawsuits and criminal indictments or running for reelection."
Reached Thursday by phone, Watson, who was voted out of office last May, said he had not been served with a copy of the lawsuit yet and could not comment. Bradley County Attorney Crystal Freiberg did not return a call for comment. But from here, Bradley County either will defend the case itself or use attorneys through its insurance plan to draft a response, exchange evidence in court and work toward a settlement, dismissal or trial.
Jails everywhere are struggling with such circumstances. Jails are often understaffed, and employees are underpaid. Populations in Bradley, Rhea, Hamilton and other counties regularly exceed their facilities' limits. Many times inmates are dealing with complex physical and mental health disorders that jails and their staff members simply aren't equipped to handle. And specific medical treatment, particularly psychotropic drugs, is expensive.
As a result of these systemic issues, though, many lawsuits and complaints say people are dying or having their care withheld in dangerous ways. In September, a group of Chattanooga and Cleveland, Tennessee, plaintiffs' lawyers filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Darrell Eden, a Chattanooga man who was booked into the Bradley County Jail in September 2017 in connection with a later-dismissed DUI charge.
Eden's attorneys said he was denied medical care "of any kind" while incarcerated, which worsened the seven broken ribs, one broken ankle and broken finger he suffered in the car wreck. Similarly, in Chattanooga, an inmate alleged that medical providers at Silverdale Detention Center failed to take him to a hospital for treatment for several days in 2018 after a fight with another inmate left him with a broken jaw and visible nerve damage.
In their 95-page lawsuit, Eden's attorneys, who are hoping to convince U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Christopher Steger to grant them class-action status, say the Bradley County Jail was understaffed, overfilled and incentivized by a business agreement with the U.S. Marshals Service that pays it $58 a day for housing men and women facing federal charges.
In response, attorneys for Bradley County government denied many of the claims or invoked Rule 12(f) of the Civil Rules of Federal Procedure. That rule asks a judge to strike repetitious, scandalous allegations from the record. The rule was mostly in reference to former Sheriff Watson's dismissed criminal case that alleged he had used forged titles to buy six cars, as well as allegations that his wife, a bondswoman, received unfair advantages because of his position.
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.