Cocke County loses jail certification, garners lawsuit over 32-year-old inmate’s death

Myra Burgin is suing the Cocke County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Armando Fontes over the September 2016 death of her daughter, Amanda Lee Hill, 32, while held in the Cocke County Jail on a misdemeanor probation violation charge. Wochit

Amanda Lee Hill survived being kidnapped, beaten and her body set afire, but just a month later, she wound up dead in a Cocke County Jail cell.

The same Cocke County leaders who, records show, for two years have failed to fix problems in its jail facilities, including proper medical treatment for inmates, are now facing a federal wrongful death lawsuit in Hill’s death. If they lose, taxpayers will foot the bill.

The Cocke County Courthouse Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. Cocke County Jail is on the top floor of the courthouse and the jail annex is directly across the street and railroad tracks. (Photo: Michael Patrick/News Sentinel) Continue reading

Cocke County, Sheriff named in federal suit after inmate death

GREENEVILLE—One year ago, Amanda Hill, 32, Newport, was found dead in a jail cell while serving time for a violation of probation charge.
A year later, her mother has filed a lawsuit against Cocke County, Cocke County Sheriff Armando Fontes and other Cocke County Jail staff members seeking $10 million in damages, alleging wrongful death and a series of violation of civil rights.

The 70-page lawsuit alleges, Hill, who was incarcerated at the Cocke County Jail in September 2016, was a type 1 diabetic and she was recovering from second and third degree burns when she did not receive proper medical attention by former correction officers and the former jail nurse which resulted in Hill’s death.
Hill was found dead in her jail cell on Sept. 28, 2016 and now her family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Cocke County Sheriff Armando Fontes and Cocke County Jail employees, along with the Cocke County government.

Wrongful Death Lawsuit filed against Scott County, Sheriff

The mother of a former inmate at the Scott County Jail has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Scott County, Sheriff Ronnie Phillips, and several employees of the Scott County Sheriff’s Office claiming their lack of medical care led to the death of her son.

On July 20, 2017, Donna Jean Sexton-Pemberton, the mother of the late Benny Shane Pemberton, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Knoxville.  In the 58-page complaint, Pemberton alleges that employees of the Scott County Jail and Advanced Correctional Healthcare, Inc, the third-party provider of healthcare services at the jail, failed to provide adequate medical care to her son, which led to his untimely death.

In the indictment-style lawsuit penned by Knoxville attorney Lance K. Baker of the The Baker Law Firm in Knoxville, Pemberton is seeking up to $10 million in compensatory and punitive damages.  The complaint not only claims wrongful death, but alleges that the Sheriff and his staff violated her son’s civil rights and their outrageous conduct led to infliction of emotional distress.

According to the complaint, Pemberton was incarcerated in the Scott County Jail on July 6, 2016 on an outstanding Florida warrant for failure to pay child support.  Two weeks later, the 41-year-old was declared brain dead at University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville.  During his incarceration, the suit alleges that the jail failed to provide proper medical care for Pemberton, who was post mortem diagnosed with Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA).

In the lawsuit, the family claims the infection started in a deep cut on Pemberton’s left foot.  From there, the infection traveled up his left leg, ultimately affecting multiple organs, including his brain.  Pemberton’s family claims that the medical staff at the jail failed to properly diagnose and treat the infection.  Furthermore, they claim Pemberton’s plea for medical assistance fell on deaf ears, as correction’s officers attributed his outward physical duress to withdrawal symptoms from chemical dependency.  Pemberton’s mother admits that her son was a drug addict.

Hours before his death, the lawsuit says Pemberton was found in a comatose state in an isolation cell lying naked in his own excrement and urine.  The family contends that the infection had attacked his brain, leading to organ failure.  Even in that condition, the lawsuit claims that correction officers failed to contact emergency medical personnel, instead directing two jail trusties to clean Pemberton up and place him in a chair.  Eventually, correction officers, when prompted by a local physician contacted by a jail employee, called for assistance.  When employees from the Scott County Ambulance Service arrived, they reportedly performed CPR on Pemberton, and revived him.  He was transported to North Knoxville Medical Center.  There, a physician reportedly diagnosed him with, among other things, an intra-cranial hemorrhage and cardiac arrest.  Due to the severity of his condition, Pemberton was transported from there to University of Tennessee Medical Center, where a neurosurgeon performed an emergency surgery, opening Pemberton’s skull to alleviate cranial pressure.  Shortly thereafter, medical personnel declared him brain dead.

An autopsy performed on July 22, 2016 reportedly found that Pemberton died of septic MRSA, which led to necrosis in multiple organs and tissues.

After being booked in the jail, Pemberton reportedly complained of excruciating pain in his left leg.  Later, his medical condition allegedly deteriorated to the point he could no longer care for himself, relying on other inmates and corrections officers to assist him with simple, everyday tasks like showering.  Near the time of his death, Pemberton was described as bed ridden and unable to care for himself.

The lawsuit claims that corrections officers and employees of Advanced Correctional Healthcare did nothing to help Pemberton.  Instead of providing medical care, the family claims that Pemberton was placed in an isolation cell, referred to in the lawsuit as “the hole”, on at least two occasions to limit his contact with other inmates and jail personnel.  Pemberton’s family asserts that a nurse at the jail refused medical care, allegedly saying “Oh, as long as it doesn’t’ go to your heart, you’ll be fine.”  The lawsuit also claims corrections officers mocked Pemberton, laughing at him.

Days after his death, Pemberton says she met with Chief Detective Randy Lewallen, who stated there would not be an investigation into her son’s death.  “Right there’s what happened to that boy,” Lewallen allegedly told Pemberton as he pointed to the preliminary autopsy report.  Pemberton says Lewallen asserted her son’s death was the result of his drug addiction.  “All of his problems were caused by his needle marks…,” Pemberton claims Lewallen said.

Pemberton’s mother states that jail personnel refused to talk to her about the circumstances leading up to his death.  Shortly after his death, she turned to Facebook, looking for answers from inmates and others that may have had contact with him.  In response, Pemberton claims she was contacted by Chief Deputy Tommy Silcox, who stated he would talk to her about her son’s death, provided she remove the Facebook post.  Pemberton claims she took the Facebook post down, but no one at the jail ever talked to her.

In support of their claim, the family also cites two other recently filed lawsuits alleging inadequate medical care at the jail led to ongoing health problems to former inmates.  In June, Jesse Perry filed a lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office and the County claiming he contracted tuberculosis inside the jail.  In March, former inmate Tammy Brawner filed suit claiming inadequate medical care led to her having seizures that has caused irreversible brain damage.   The latter case has been set for trial on January 8, 2019.

Scott County Sheriff Perpetuates Cover Up of Inmates Cause-of-Death

In the wake of a civil rights/wrongful death action charging Scott County, Scott County Sheriff Ronnie Phillips, Scott County Sheriff’s Office employees, and a heath-services contractor with, among other atrocities, failing to provide adequate medical care over a two-week period to an inmate suffering from a massive MRSA infection that proved fatal (/blog/), Phillips has
taken to the media in an attempt to defend his officers’ actions and inaction.

Speaking to the Independent Herald, Phillips stated that former inmate Shane Pemberton was “not denied any kind of treatment” and that “Sheriff’s Department personnel believe Pemberton died from a brain aneurysm.”

On Thursday, Pemberton’s attorney, Lance Baker of Knoxville, responded, stating:

“contrary to the final autopsy report, Phillips’ own Chief Detective had claimed that needle-marks on Mr. Pemberton’s arms showed that he died from a drugrelated cause. It now appears that Phillips has retracted this unmerited claim. Yet, Phillips’ latest statements are also flatly-contradicted by hundreds of pages of medical records released by  two hospitals and by the final autopsy report of Knox County Chief Medical Examiner, Darinka Mileusnic.”

Baker says, medically speaking, the autopsy revealed that Pemberton’s death was caused by an infection that, by the time Scott County officers found him comatose on the floor of a cell, had “spread to every major organ in his body, including his heart and brain.” In a statement, Baker emphasized that Dr. Mileusnic’s report described Pemberton’s brain as having “massive bacterial colonies.” Not only was his death not caused by a “brain aneurysm,” as Phillips now suggests, but one medical professional examined Pemberton and observed, “it would have taken days to get that amount of infection all over the body.”

Phillips’ office also claims that Pemberton went through a thorough “medical screening” at the jail. Whether that is true – and again, Baker says that it is not – Phillips tip-toes around important issues involving Pemberton’s two-week incarceration that ended in his death. For example, Baker says that Phillips does not explain why that, as the infection was spreading through Pemberton’s body, and he was exhibiting tell-tale signs and symptoms of a serious medical problem (for instance, he could not walk or stand on his own), no one noticed the severity of his illness. And if they did, Baker asks, “why did they not send him to a hospital, where his life could have been saved with IV-antibiotics and aggressive treatment?”

Finally, Baker’s statement says that as bad as Pemberton’s in-jail treatment was, once he was found comatose, Phillips’ officers acted irresponsibly, waiting needlessly to call E-911 until Pemberton was “cleaned up” by other inmates and making at least four telephone calls to obtain “instructions” from supervisors. Then, Baker says, “Phillips’ officers not only misinformed medical professionals
about Pemberton’s condition and the events leading up to his death, but they also doctored jail-records to cover-up their misdeeds.”

“We look forward to having our day in Court, where we expect to prove, by medical and other testimony, that the actions of all of the defendants in this case substantially contributed to Mr. Pemberton’s death,” Baker said.

Suit accuses Scott County, sheriff of neglect in inmate’s

A Scott County woman accuses the Scott County Sheriff’s Office of ignoring her son’s repeated pleas for medical treatment in jail as an infection gradually took over his body, ultimately destroying his brain and killing him.

Donna Jean Sexton-Pemberton filed the document in U.S. District Court in Knoxville on July 20.

She seeks up to $5 million in compensatory and in punitive damages and a jury trial.

10News sought but did not receive comment from Sheriff Ronnie Phillips about the lawsuit. On Monday, he told the station that in general inmates have the services of qualified medical personnel on hand if they become ill.

Benny Shane Pemberton, 41, was taken into custody July 6, 2016, on a warrant for failure to pay child support in Florida, according to the lawsuit. It  states he had a deep cut to his left foot that became grossly infected over two weeks as he was held in the Scott County jail.

The document also acknowledges Pemberton had been a drug abuser.

Soon after entering the jail, infection from the cut in his left foot spread through his body, according to the lawsuit. His illness developed into MRSA, a sometimes deadly bacteria that’s highly resistant to treatment.

The document does not allege Pemberton contracted MRSA from the jail.

Pemberton begged jail staff including deputies for help, the lawsuit alleges, but his pleas were ignored.

At times other inmates tried to get help on his behalf, the lawsuit filed by Knoxville lawyer Lance Baker states.

At one point, jail staff became so tired of hearing him asking for help that he was moved to an isolation cell known as “The Hole,” according to the lawsuit.

Sheriff Phillips said Monday the cell, with typical amenities such as a commode, is set aside for inmates who may have a medical condition or may have problems getting along with other inmates.

Pemberton spent a week in the isolation cell before being returned to more general quarters, according to the lawsuit.

By July 20, the inmate’s health was failing so badly that he was found lying naked and comatose in a cell floor in his own excrement and urine, according to the suit. His hands and fingers showed signs of gangrene and his body was covered with abscesses, cuts, bruises and abrasions.

A deputy found Pemberton unconscious in the cell, the lawsuit states. After debating what help to get him, authorities ultimately called a doctor who advised them to take Pemberton to the hospital, the mother alleges.

According to the lawsuit, some personnel tried to cover up the truth behind the inmate’s deteriorating condition.

He first was treated at North Knoxville Medical Center before being moved to University of Tennessee Medical Center. Doctors there thought he’d been assaulted, according to the lawsuit.

The document states Sheriff’s Office personnel had misstated and withheld from medical personnel the inmate’s true medical problems. Doctors at the medical center determined his brain was no longer functional due to the infection, and he died the afternoon of July 20.

“From the minute he was processed and booked at the Scott County jail, Mr. Pemberton’s complaints of pain and request for medical attention were altogether disregarded by corrections officers and jail nurses,” the lawsuit states.

Within the last year, the lawsuit states, two other inmates also have complained about suffering poor health because jail personnel failed to respond to their requests for help, according to the lawsuit.

Defendants named in the lawsuit including the sheriff, various Sheriff’s Office personnel and Advanced Correctional Healthcare Inc., which provided medical staff for the jail’s health care.

Attorney says excessive force lawsuit against Alcoa, Blount County ‘could have been avoided’

A $2 million excessive force lawsuit pending against the city of Alcoa and Blount County government would have been unnecessary if law enforcement had recognized obvious mental health issues and provided appropriate care, the attorney who filed the suit said this week.

Knoxville attorney Lance Baker told The Daily Times on Friday that his client, 38-year-old Maryville resident Annissa Mary Lee Colson, was showing obvious signs of a panic attack following her arrest nearly two years ago.

Alcoa officers and Blount County deputies not only showed complete disregard for her condition, Baker said, but assaulted and tormented her. The officers and deputies involved have denied any wrongdoing.

It began when Alcoa officers were called to Springbrook Road on June 23, 2015, when Colson’s then 10-year-old son fled her SUV.

The child told officers Colson had been drinking at Springbrook Pool. She began speeding when they left, causing him to pull the emergency brake and flee the vehicle in fear, according to police reports.

Colson crashed her SUV while chasing after the child and was placed under arrest. She was taken to Blount Memorial Hospital after agreeing to take a blood alcohol test. Once there, however, she changed her mind. That’s when the chain of events leading to the lawsuit really begin, Baker said.

‘Two Cases’

“We don’t dispute what happened prior to her arrest,” Baker said. “(But) you have to segregate the two cases. So really, our case begins when Ms. Colson arrives at the hospital.”

Police say Colson became belligerent and combative when instructed to get back into the cruiser. The lawsuit states Colson suffers from anxiety and had a severe panic attack.

Alcoa Officers Dustin Cook and Arik Wilson are accused of ignoring signs of mental distress and refusing to give her time to catch her breath.

A struggle to put her back in the cruiser ensued, and Colson’s knee was reportedly injured. Baker said it happened when Wilson applied pressure to the area. Colson suffered a broken bone and tears in two ligaments as a result, Baker said.

Instead of wrestling with Colson, the officers should have recognized her distress and checked her into the hospital, Baker said.

“One of our essential arguments is that the officers were not trained well enough to appreciate what was really going on with Ms. Colson,” Baker said. “I think they mistook her panic disorders and anxiety, which was triggered by the arrest, as someone that’s being combative for combative sake.”

Once at the Blount County jail, Colson was tormented and abused by Blount County deputies, according to the lawsuit. It included Colson being strapped in a restraint chair for several hours, Baker said.

“She’s placed in a restraint chair for approximately seven hours without water, without any bathroom breaks whatsoever,” Baker said. “She’s forced to urinate on herself while both male and female officers laugh, essentially … it’s just not right and it’s just an egregious and inhumane way to treat someone, even inmates.”

Incompetence Alleged

Wilson and Cook are both named in the suit, which was filed last June in Knoxville’s U.S. District Court. Alcoa Police Lt. Keith Fletcher, former Alcoa Police Chief Philip Potter, Blount County Sheriff James Berrong, Blount County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Mandy England and Jennifer Russell, a nurse contracted to work at the Blount County jail, are also defendants.

Russell is accused of performing a shoddy examination of Colson’s knee when she was brought into the jail. Reports and police video of the arrest show Russell cleared her of any serious injuries.

“There’s no other word I can think of to describe Jennifer Russell’s treatment of Ms. Colson other than just pure incompetence,” Baker said. “She had no business being in that facility giving medical attention to anyone. Ms. Colson needed a real medical professional at that point in time, and that’s not what she got.”

Baker said Colson only recently was able to undergo surgery on her knee to repair the damage.

Responses have been filed on behalf of all defendants, except Russell, denying they did anything illegal or unnecessary. Russell filed a motion in November asking the case be dismissed. A decision on that motion has not been made.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Leon Jordan granted a request to throw out some of the claims levied against Berrong.

Baker still contends the whole thing could have been avoided.

“All they had to do was recognize that there’s something not right, it’s not just her being combative,” Baker said. “If they just would have checked her into the hospital and had a medical professional, or a nurse, check her out, I think this whole thing could have been avoided.”

Colson pleaded guilty in October to charges of DUI, reckless endangerment and resisting arrest. She was also charged with assaulting an officer, but it was dismissed as part of a plea agreement.

Attorney says excessive force lawsuit against Alcoa, Blount County ‘could have been avoided’

The Daily Times

A $2 million excessive force lawsuit pending against the city of Alcoa and Blount County government would have been unnecessary if law enforcement had recognized obvious mental health issues and provided appropriate care, the attorney who filed the suit said this week.

Knoxville attorney Lance Baker told The Daily Times on Friday that his client, 38-year-old Maryville resident Annissa Mary Lee Colson, was showing obvious signs of a panic attack following her arrest nearly two years ago.

— Read More —

Inmate’s attorney, law department trade written blows in beating lawsuit

flack-louis3-e1424728118227With the taxpayer meter running, opposing attorneys in the case of a videotaped beating of a mentally ill Knox County jail inmate are bloodying each other in the battle over legal fees.

Taxpayers have already forked out $200,000 for the actions of Knox County Sheriff’s Office employees in the November 2014 beating of inmate Louis Flack Jr.

But the tab for taxpayers in what the Knox County Law Director’s Office admitted was a violation of Flack’s civil rights is still running with a legal fight between Flack’s attorney, Lance Baker, and Deputy Law Director David Wigler over how much Baker and others on Flack’s legal team should receive for their work on the case.

In recent filings in U.S. District Court, the battle has turned ugly.

“What a gift for a young lawyer!” Wigler wrote in suggesting Baker, his paralegal and two assisting attorneys are charging “exorbitant” fees for what Wigler contends was a slam­dunk case.

Baker, in turn, accuses Wigler and the KCSO of adding to the expense of the case by playing hide­and­seek with documents before a settlement was reached and of “stonewalling, disinformation, misrepresentation, feigned ignorance, and a complete lack of cooperation” by Wigler after a deal was struck.

Baker seeks roughly $114,000 in legal fees and expenses for himself and his team.

Video showed Flack, clearly identified as mentally ill by the jumpsuit assigned him, was in the throes of a psychotic break when KCSO staffers stormed his cell, threw him facedown on the concrete floor and beat and kicked him even after he was fully restrained. More abuse of Flack was captured on video after the assault, with Cpl. David Sparkes grabbing Flack by his hair and pulling his head up as a nurse treated Flack, even though the inmate was not struggling with the nurse and still remained in a psychotic state.

Baker had been appointed to represent Flack in Knox County General Sessions Court in a domestic assault case, which was later dropped when — nearly three months after the incident — the video surfaced and Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones was forced to publicly acknowledge the beating. Jones fired Deputy Nicholas Breeden, who can be seen on video punching Flack after he was restrained, suspended Sparkes for five days and suspended jailer Christopher Fustos, who kicked and kneed the restrained inmate, for two days. Breeden faces trial on official misconduct and assault charges in the Flack incident.

Baker learned of the video of his client via WBIR­TV, which first aired it in January 2015. Records show he agreed to pursue a lawsuit on behalf of Flack under what’s known as a contingency arrangement in which the lawyer would not be paid for time and expenses unless Flack won money. Wigler contends the video all but forced the county to admit wrongdoing, so there was little legal fight when Baker filed the civil­rights lawsuit in November 2015.

“Indeed, Knox County never denied liability,” he wrote.

But Baker contends the KCSO refused to turn over public records and did not disclose a second video that was longer than the one aired publicly, far more detailed and included audio when Baker was trying to investigate the incident in anticipation of filing a lawsuit. He said in his motion that added to his work and his bill for it.

Knox County offered Flack $100,000 soon after the lawsuit was filed. Baker rejected that. Four months later, in March, the county offered $200,000 for Flack. Baker accepted it. But the issue of legal fees remained.

With the ink still wet on the settlement, another fight broke out between Wigler and Baker over exactly what had been agreed to in terms of legal fees, including whether Baker should take a financial hit for releasing that second video to the media while the lawsuit was pending.

“What transpired over the next 3 months (was) a series of actions that included stonewalling, disinformation, misrepresentation, feigned ignorance and a complete lack of cooperation by the Law Director’s Office (that) threatened to unravel the settlement,” Baker wrote.

Wigler denies that and says Baker was stalling so Knox County would drop its demands for sanctions over the release of the second video and should not be allowed to bill taxpayers for that.

“As it turned out, Mr. Baker was essentially holding up his client’s settlement for over three months to avoid responding to the pending motion for sanctions,” Wigler wrote.

Wigler said Knox County has offered Baker $35,000 in legal fees and expenses.

A judge will decide how much taxpayers should pay for Flack’s legal representation. Taxpayers also will have to pay for a private attorney the law department hired to represent the individual officers, except Breeden. A cost for that has not been made public yet.

Jamie Satterfield, Knoxville News Sentinel, September, 5, 2016.

State Farm Policyholders Win Class Cert. In $1B RICO Suit

State Farm Policyholders Win Class Cert. In $1B RICO Suit

Law360, Los Angeles (September 16, 2016, 11:38 PM EDT) — An Illinois federal judge Friday certified a class of State Farm policyholders who had filed a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act suit against the insurer and several others that allegedly funneled money into a state judge’s election campaign to evade payment of a $1 billion judgment.

LexisNexis: Mark Hale, Todd Shadle, and Laurie Loger, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs, v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company




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