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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane County Jail deaths have cost more than $4 million in settlements since 2000

Cindy Lou Hill is seen in this undated photo. Hill, then 55, died in August 2018 at the Spokane County Jail. A U.S. District Court jury in late July decided that Hill’s estate will receive $27 million in damages for her death. The county will pay $275,000.  (Family of Cindy Lou Hill)

A federal jury last month delivered one of the most expensive verdicts in Spokane County history.

The 10 men and women decided Spokane County and the medical provider for the county jail owed a combined $27 million to the family of Cindy Lou Hill, a 55-year-old woman who died in custody four years ago.

NaphCare, the medical provider, will pay $26.5 million unless its appeal is successful. Spokane County will pay $275,000.

It was a favorable outcome for the county. A $275,000 fine pales in comparison to the county’s $53 million detention services budget.

But this wasn’t the first time a jail death has cost county taxpayers.

Since 2000, Spokane County has paid more than $4.4 million for settlements related to jail deaths, injuries and sexual misconduct claims.

Here’s how the Hill verdict stacks up against the most expensive county jail incidents from the past 22 years.

Alan Brady

Alan Brady was an inmate in the Spokane County jail system in 2001.

According to public records, Brady said he was forced to “clean a vent from top bunk” while on antidepressants and “feeling unsteady.”

Brady said he fell from the bunk and broke his right elbow. The county settled with him for $301,200.

Troy Radan

Troy Radan, 33, was booked into the Spokane County Jail on April 29, 2002, on charges of domestic violence and driving under the influence.

Three days later, Radan used his shoelaces to hang himself from the upper bunk of his cell. He was alone in the two-man cell at the time.

As compensation for his suicide, Spokane County settled with Radan’s estate for $145,000.

Steve Samuels

According to public records, Steve Samuels died by suicide under Spokane County’s watch in 2004.

The county settled with his estate for $42,587.06.

Venus Elder

Venus Elder was booked into the jail on Feb. 16, 2004, for multiple charges, including drug paraphernalia possession.

Elder, 39, took blood thinner medication. Her daughter, Krystal Elder, brought her medication to the jail on Feb. 17.

But Venus Elder, who spent time at both the jail and Geiger Corrections Center before her death, wasn’t allowed to take her medicine until Feb. 23.

She died on March 2 after suffering a stroke.

Spokane County and the Elder family in 2005 settled for $250,000.

Corrections officer alleged sexual assault by supervisor

A female corrections officer who worked in the Spokane County Jail said she was sexually harassed on March 28, 2004, by her supervisor.

She settled with Spokane County for $500,000.

Christopher Rentz

Christopher Rentz was booked into the Spokane County Jail in 2004 for second-degree robbery after allegedly stealing $23.04 of gasoline and hitting a gas station attendant.

The 21-year-old died on Oct. 2, 2004, after his cellmates beat him with a broom, cut his neck with a razor and strangled him with a bed sheet.

Rentz’s family initially sought more than $5 million in damages, arguing that the county never should have placed him in the same cell with Michael West and Brandon Martin, who had violent criminal records.

Martin had pleaded innocent by reason of insanity to charges of killing two men in Mead in 2002. West faced rape and kidnapping charges.

West was convicted of first-degree murder for killing Rentz, and Martin was convicted of rendering criminal assistance.

Spokane County settled with Rentz’s family for $150,000, according to public records, although published reports said it was for $180,000.

Inmate alleged rape by corrections officer

A Geiger Corrections Center inmate said she was raped on Jan. 25, 2006, by a corrections officer.

Spokane County settled with her for $250,000.

Benites Sichiro

Benites Sichiro was booked into the Spokane County Jail in 2006 on charges of trespassing, obstruction of justice and fourth-degree assault.

Sichiro, who was suffering from alcohol withdrawal, fought corrections officers on three occasions.

During the confrontation that led to his death, corrections officers used Tasers on him, beat him unconscious and kneed him in a maneuver referred to as a “donkey kick.”

Sichiro died on Jan. 29, 2006, of a lacerated liver. Spokane County settled with his family in July 2009 for $425,000.

Justin Betts

On April 23, 2012, Trevor Franklin attacked fellow Spokane County Jail inmate Justin Betts, who was incarcerated for threatening people with a gun in downtown Spokane while high on methamphetamine.

Betts, 35, had a history of mental illness and had been jailed more than a dozen times.

According to court records, Franklin punched Betts from behind. Betts fell and fractured his skull when he hit the ground.

Spokane County settled with Betts for $75,000.

Jessica Alvarado

Jessica Alvarado died in the Spokane County Jail on Aug. 13, 2012, after choking on her vomit.

Alvarado hadn’t disclosed to jail nurses that she was taking illegal drugs, but she told a cellmate before her death that she’d “swallowed a bunch” of illicit prescription pills.

The 29-year-old’s family filed a wrongful death suit, seeking $8 million in damages.

Spokane County settled with Alvarado’s estate for $1 million. It’s the most expensive jail-related Spokane County settlement since 2000, according to public records.

Christopher Parker

Christopher Parker called 911 on Feb. 24, 2013, claiming he was paranoid, diabetic and had taken meth.

Spokane police officers arrived at the 33-year-old’s home and discovered he had a warrant for his arrest due to unpaid child support.

Parker had an elevated blood glucose level but was booked into the Spokane County Jail anyway.

After refusing to sit down in his cell, jail guards put Parker in a headlock, shocked him with a stun gun and put him in a restraint chair.

Parker stopped breathing, fell unconscious and died in a jail hallway.

Spokane County settled the case for $250,000.

Lorenzo Hayes

Lorenzo Hayes, 37, was arrested on suspicion of illegally possessing a weapon and for violating a no-contact order.

He choked to death on his own vomit in the Spokane County Jail’s booking area. Investigators ruled the death a homicide, but jail staff were not criminally charged.

Hayes’ family sued for more than $6 million and eventually settled with Spokane County for $500,000.

Pending cases

Three major Spokane County Jail death lawsuits haven’t been settled or decided in court.

Chris Rogers was arrested in November 2017 after escaping from a mental health treatment facility and allegedly stealing a car.

Rogers, 24, had schizophrenia and believed a Martian would kill his family if he didn’t take his own life.

He hanged himself in his jail cell on Jan. 3, 2018. Rogers’ family in 2020 sued Spokane County for $5.25 million.

Josh Maurer, the attorney for Rogers’ estate, said the case is still in litigation. He said NaphCare, Spokane County and the plaintiffs are in mediation.

“All of these deaths that I’ve read about have been preventable, but the proper policies have not been put in place or not been followed,” Maurer said. “Hopefully, these cases bring about changes and are ultimately positive for our community and make everybody safer.”

Jeffry Finer, a longtime Spokane civil rights attorney, represents the families of Cambrea Bishop and Patrick Flynn.

Both families are suing the county.

Bishop, 26, was booked into the jail on July 14, 2018, for a parole violation.

She died three days later of pulmonary edema, a condition that fills the lungs with excess fluid, making it difficult to breathe. Bishop was detoxing at the time of her death.

Flynn, 36, was arrested on May 17, 2018, after being charged with first-degree robbery.

He died two days later after he hanged himself in his cell with a bedsheet. Flynn was suffering from heroin withdrawal when he died.

His family is seeking more than $2 million in damages, arguing the county knew, or should have known, that he was a suicide risk.