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Tuesday, July 7, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane County settles jail medication lawsuit for $50,000

Spokane County has agreed to settle a civil lawsuit with a family who alleged their son did not receive needed mental health medication during a jail stay in 2013.

The county will pay $50,000 to settle the claim filed by Robert “Danny” Lee, according to Jeffry Finer, a civil rights attorney who represented the Lee family. County officials confirmed the amount.

“This is a substantial settlement,” Finer said. “I know the family is relieved.”

Steve Bartel, the county’s risk manager, said the decision to settle was based on potential attorney fees and court costs.

Lee sued Spokane County in May 2014, a full year after he reported to Spokane County Jail to serve a nine-month jail sentence on an assault charge. The Lees had received a judicial order that Danny Lee receive prescribed medications for mental health issues while incarcerated.

Danny Lee went a week without those medicines because jail staff would not accept pills provided by the family and orders for jail-approved medications took too long to process, the Lees’ lawsuit alleged.

Finer said in the months since the lawsuit was filed, he’s been “heartened” by efforts at the jail to improve access to medicine. Spokane County has committed to hiring additional nurses to serve in the jail and provides medical forms online so there’s less lag in ordering medications.

“I don’t expect there to be a repeat of what happened to the Lees,” Finer said. “But it is a human system. I think going electronic is going to help.”

Bartel said the county has upgraded its medical records system as part of an overhaul of the jail’s overall record-keeping. The system now alerts staff every 24 hours of inmates who’ve not received physician approval for medicine. Medical records are now shared electronically between the jail and Geiger Corrections Center near the airport.

“I was really impressed with Detention Services stepping up,” Bartel said.

A mental health professional is on call to consult when regular nursing staff aren’t able to render help, and a new pharmaceutical provider has sped up the process of ordering medicine, he said.

Spokane County commissioners have not yet signed the settlement, which was approved in a Yakima federal courtroom last week.

One of the issues that prompted the lawsuit was miscommunication about the jail’s medicine policy among staffers from the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, Finer said. The Lees contend they were initially told they could provide medicine for their son, but it wasn’t accepted when he reported to jail.

“It was entirely foreseeable,” Finer said. “That just shouldn’t happen for sensitive items.”

It’s not the first time the jail has settled a lawsuit over its handling of medicine.

Spokane County paid $250,000 to the estate and daughter of Venus Elder, who died in 2004 after suffering a stroke after spending a week at Spokane County Jail and Geiger Corrections Center without being allowed to take her blood-thinning medicine.

She died March 2 after suffering a stroke.

Spokane County commissioners took over jail operations from Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich shortly after Lee’s incarceration. Knezovich and County Commissioners Shelly O’Quinn, Todd Mielke and Al French said the administration change was necessary to enact criminal justice reforms and rein in costs.

A trial in the case had been scheduled for January. Lee’s father, also named Rob Lee, won a separate settlement for $28,000 earlier this year after the county failed to provide records he’d requested detailing the jail’s medication policy.

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