Last week, Benton County agreed to a $1 million settlement with the estate of Faith Denise Whitcomb, and to changing its policies, in one of, if not the largest civil rights payouts in the state of Arkansas. Ms. Whitcomb was in her early 50s when she was arrested and detained at Benton County Jail. Her complaint alleged that while at the jail, she began experiencing severe pain and was visibly ill. She couldn’t keep down food and lost nearly 50 pounds within a short period. Denise tried to get medical care by filing grievances and medical requests. The complaint alleged that the medical staff and correctional officers at the Jail ignored her cries for help and never tried to diagnose the pain. The complaint alleged that they only offered her over-the-counter medication, even though she repeatedly complained that those medicines were not enough to help her. She died 10 months later in her cell.
Throughout this ordeal, Denise was forced to live in isolation, which meant that she was confined to her cell for 23 hours a day. An intake officer believed that she was HIV-positive, and it was the jail’s policy to segregate people with “communicable diseases.” Her complaint alleged not only that it is needless to isolate people on the basis of their HIV status, but also that Denise did not have such disease. The unnecessary 23-hour per day segregation was particularly difficult for her because of her mental health disorders.
In addition to the $1 million settlement, Loevy & Loevy was able to negotiate a change in the Jail’s policy. The sheriff of Benton County has agreed to stop isolating or segregating inmates on the basis of their HIV status. We are proud to have gotten justice for Denise and her family, and to have contributed to policy changes at the Jail that will guard against other inmates suffering the same tragic fate that Denise suffered.
If you or some you know is a victim of unconstitutional conditions of confinement, including denial of medical care, and would like to make a claim, we encourage you to call 312-243-5900, toll-free 888-644-6459 or contact us online today for a free consultation. It is important to involve an attorney early in the process to achieve the greatest result. Learn more about our civil rights practice here.