Family sues Sheriff Jim Neil, Hamilton County for wrongful death of their son

Attorney: ‘He was essentially tortured'
Hamilton County Jail
Posted at 1:57 PM, Oct 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-27 14:52:11-04

CINCINNATI -- Tommy Britt died on Nov. 22, 2016, less than a month after he was booked into the Hamilton County Justice Center.

Britt’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit Friday, alleging jail officials refused him timely medical care. The suit claims jailers knew Britt had a history with using drugs intravenously, and they ignored him when he showed symptoms of an infection.

When asked about these accusations, a spokesperson for the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office said the office does not comment on pending litigation. 

The suit states the 23-year-old had “several serious medical needs” when he was booked into the jail on Oct. 26, 2016, including and infection and heroin withdrawal.

On Oct. 31, Danielle McFarland, a licensed practical nurse, “did not assess, treat or refer” Britt to a doctor after she recorded a high temperature and an elevated heart rate, the suit states.

Later that day, Britt pushed the call button in his cell and told the officer he was short of breath and felt like he was going to pass out, according to the suit. Officers arrived to his cell within a minute and saw Britt unresponsive on the floor.

Sgt. Kilday responded to the medical emergency, according to the suit, and he and nurses determined Britt was “faking” his non-responsive state. Kilday ordered Britt be placed in a restraint chair, and Angela M. Moore, a registered nurse, placed him on suicide watch, the suit states. 

While he was in the restraint chair, the lawsuit alleges jail officials and nurses violated policy by not allowing Britt to exercise his limbs, drink water or use the restroom. Britt was released from the chair after three hours and put on suicide watch for the next two days, his family claims. 

Someone found Britt the morning of Nov. 2 in critical condition with a very high heart rate. The suit states nurses took his vital signs twice, but his temperature was not taken or not recorded.

Britt’s temperature at the hospital was 103.1, and he was admitted into the intensive care unit, where he remained in critical condition until his organs failed, his family said.

Jennifer Branch, attorney for Britt’s family, said in a statement there is a need to improve the quality of medical care for heroin users in jails.  

“Tommy Britt had so much infection in his heart that his aortic valve was completely destroyed,” Branch said. “His jailers knew he had an infection – he had an elevated temperature and heart rate. Yet, they declared he was faking and strapped him in a restraint chair. He was essentially tortured.”

Britt graduated from Oak Hills High School in 2012 and planned to attend college until he became addicted to heroin and fentanyl, according to his family. Britt’s parents said they were optimistic he would recover from his addiction, Branch said.