Posted October 23rd, 2010.
Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
The family of an inmate who died of sickle-cell anemia at the Sonoma County Jail after losing 44 pounds in the last week of his life can go to trial in a lawsuit against the county for allegedly ignoring his medical needs, a federal magistrate has ruled.
Ryan George died at the jail in Santa Rosa in July 2007, six days after he was discharged from a hospital where inmates are treated. County authorities said medical professionals and guards monitored his condition but could not require him to take food or medication, which he often refused.
But U.S. Magistrate Elizabeth Laporte said the facts about George’s treatment were in dispute, and evidence the family’s lawyers obtained from fellow inmates and jail staff might convince a jury that the county had been deliberately indifferent to his medical condition.
Inmates said guards had accused George of faking his symptoms and had mocked him because he urinated and defecated on himself, Laporte said in her ruling Tuesday.
She said his “dramatic weight loss” – from 162 pounds to 118 in the week before his death – could constitute evidence that he was denied “the basic necessities of life.”
Laporte also said the county grand jury’s 2009-10 report criticized deputies’ treatment of George, and another grand jury report two years earlier found that better treatment at the jail could have prevented the deaths of several inmates from alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
A jury should decide, she said, whether the county’s medical contractor had provided “substandard care” at the jail.
George was jailed in May 2007 on a domestic violence conviction and was scheduled to be released in December 2007.
A trial is scheduled in January in his family’s suit against the county, Sheriff Bill Cogbill and Sutter Medical Center in Santa Rosa, where George was treated.
“This ruling is an indictment of the entire system of medical care for Sonoma County inmates,” said Steven Wittels, lawyer for George’s parents and two children, one of whom was born a month after his death.
Wittels said George had been severely dehydrated, a common condition with sickle-cell patients, but that neither guards nor medical staff had given him intravenous fluids that might have prevented his death.
Gregory Spaulding, the county’s lawyer, said county officials are confident a jury will reject allegations that jail personnel ignored George’s needs. He said the inmate “was seen every single day in the jail by (the contractor’s) staff, doctors and nurses.”