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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Suit filed over inmate death

Mikah Pieou, 3, holds a picture of himself and his grandmother, Venus Elder, who died in March. Krystal Elder, center, has filed a lawsuit over her mother's death because jail officials did not let Venus Elder take her blood-thinning medication.Mikah Pieou, 3, holds a picture of himself and his grandmother, Venus Elder, who died in March. Krystal Elder, center, has filed a lawsuit over her mother's death because jail officials did not let Venus Elder take her blood-thinning medication.
 (Jed Conklin/Jed Conklin/ / The Spokesman-Review)

The daughter of a woman who died in March after she spent a week at the Spokane County Jail and Geiger Corrections Center without being allowed to take her anti-blood-clotting medicine filed a lawsuit against the county last week in federal court.

Venus Elder, 39, was booked into jail on Feb. 16 on charges of driving with a suspended license, possession of drug paraphernalia and making a false statement to police. She died March 2 at Sacred Heart Medical Center.

Elder had been taking warfarin, the generic version of Coumadin, daily at least since she had heart valve replacement surgery in 2003. The drug prevents blood from clotting.

Warfarin was not given to Elder during her incarceration until Feb. 23, even though her daughter, Krystal Elder, gave the jail her mother’s medication, including warfarin, on Feb. 17, according to jail and Geiger records provided by Patrick Fannin, the attorney representing Krystal Elder.

“She was my mom. She was my son’s grandma,” Krystal Elder said.

Venus Elder also was facing a count of possession of methamphetamine. That charge arose when a Washington State Patrol trooper pulled her over in June 2003 and allegedly found two bags that contained white powder, which later was determined to be meth, court documents say.

Krystal Elder said that her mother had abused crack, but had made progress in breaking the addiction. The autopsy showed that no illegal drugs were in her system when she died, Fannin said.

At least part of the delay in getting warfarin to Venus Elder occurred because Elder’s medical records on file with her doctor listed her under her married name, Venus Rosemeier. When the jail faxed Elder’s doctor on Feb. 17 to confirm what medications Elder was prescribed to take, the office responded it didn’t have a file on Elder.

Fannin said the jail should have known that Venus Elder also went by Rosemeier because the jail had documents on file with both last names. The jail also had records showing that Elder was given warfarin in jail during a 2003 incarceration, Fannin said.

Terrence Lackie, the attorney representing Spokane County in the case, did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

A few days after her arrival, Venus Elder was allowed to take some of her prescriptions, but not warfarin, Fannin said.

Venus Elder was transferred from the jail to Geiger on Feb. 20, and she filled out paperwork allowing Geiger to seek information from her doctor, Fannin said. Geiger faxed a medical release to her doctor the morning of Feb. 23. The doctor’s office faxed Venus Elder’s medical records to Geiger two hours later, and she was given warfarin for the first time that night.

A day earlier, Venus Elder had become short of breath and put in a request for medical attention, according to Geiger records. Elder complained to a Geiger staff member that she wasn’t receiving her heart medication and said she had told the nurse who handed out medication. However, a Geiger nurse told the staff member that Elder would only receive the same medicine she got at the jail unless Geiger’s doctor ordered something different. On Feb. 23, Elder saw a nurse, who set up an appointment for her to see the doctor three days later, the records say.

On Feb. 24, Elder filled out a form asking to visit Geiger’s medical clinic because she was short of breath and experiencing pain in her leg, records say.

The next morning, a Geiger staff member checked on Elder about 7:50 a.m. after she was not able to make it to the “pill line” to receive her medicine. Elder complained of having chest pain and pain in her arms and legs. Geiger medical personnel waited almost an hour – until 8:40 a.m. – to call an ambulance, Geiger records indicate. Instead, a nurse tried to “hydrate Elder with juices, water and chicken broth,” records say.

She became unconscious soon after arriving at Sacred Heart, Fannin said. Doctors were able to break up a blood clot in her heart, but the remnants traveled to her brain and caused a stroke.

During her mother’s incarceration, Kyrstal Elder became worried after visiting her at the jail and Geiger. Krystal Elder said she placed calls to her mother’s doctor and to medical staff at Geiger to little avail. She said she didn’t get an explanation from the jail or Geiger after she died.

“All they did was drop my mom like a hot potato,” Krystal Elder said. “I feel that she really suffered, and I think a lot of other people are suffering, and it’s going unheard.”

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Spokane, also names jail and Geiger physician Dr. Robert Rose and two Geiger nurses. The suit does not seek specific damages, but in June, Krystal Elder filed a $5 million claim with the county for her mother’s death. Rose did not return a call last week seeking comment.