Budge & Heipt Investigating Indiana Jail Death

The Louisville Courier Journal has reported on a jail death case being investigated by Budge & Heipt. The case involves the death of Joshua McLemore, a 29-year old man who died approximately 19 days after he was first confined in the Jackson County Jail in Indiana.

From the Louisville Courier Journal, September 1, 2021:


Ta’Neasha Chappell case: Investigation launched into 2nd prisoner death tied to Indiana jail 

 Tessa Duvall

Louisville Courier Journal

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Indiana State Police have launched an investigation into a second prisoner death involving a Southern Indiana jail where Louisville woman Ta’Neasha Chappell was held before she died.

Joshua McLemore, 29, had been held 19 days in the Jackson County Jail in Brownstown, Indiana, when he was taken to Schneck Medical Center in Seymour, Indiana and then flown the same day to Mercy Health – West Hospital in Cincinnati.

McLemore died at the hospital Aug. 10.

On July 16, 23-year-old Chappell died at Schneck only a few hours after being transported there from the Jackson County Jail.

Last week, the Indiana State Police told The Courier Journal investigators weren’t looking into any other recent jail deaths beyond Chappell. But Wednesday morning, ISP Sgt. Stephen Wheeles confirmed the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office requested an investigation into McLemore’s death.

“It’s still extremely early in that investigation so not much is available to be released in that case at this time,” Wheeles wrote in an email.

McLemore was “released” on his own recognizance from the jail on Aug. 8, the same day he was hospitalized at Schneck, according to a bond form obtained by The Courier Journal.

Under the release form’s “promise to appear,” it notes McLemore was “unable to sign” where his signature should be.

Transfer records from Schneck, also dated Aug. 8, show McLemore had been diagnosed with several serious issues including altered mental status and rhabdomyolysis, a rare condition in which the body’s muscle tissue begins to break down. That form also notes “pt unable to sign.”

Before the State Police’s announcement Wednesday, Ed Budge, a Seattle-based attorney who specializes in jail and prison deaths and is representing McLemore’s mother, called on the Jackson County Jail to treat the death as an in-custody death with “a full and independent outside investigation.”

In a letter, Budge wrote the county “made the seemingly unusual decision to release Mr. McLemore on his own recognizance prior to his death.”

“Despite this, it is clear that the medical conditions that led up to Mr. McLemore’s death occurred during his confinement in the Jackson County Jail,” he wrote. “Accordingly, his death should be treated and investigated as an in-custody death, and the conditions of his confinement need to be fully investigated by appropriate authorities.”

Budge told The Courier Journal: “The death of Joshua leaves serious, serious questions about what occurred during the course of his confinement at the Jackson County Jail, and we intend to get to the bottom of it.”

The Jackson County Sheriff did not return a request for comment.

‘Very suspicious circumstances’

The jail, operated by Jackson County Sheriff Rick Meyer and Jail Commander Chris Everhart, has been under scrutiny since Chappell’s death last month. Brownstown is about 50 miles north of Louisville.

According to attorneys for her family — the same legal team that secured a $12 million settlement from the city of Louisville for the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor — Chappell got sick on July 15 but was neglected by staff until the next day when EMS was finally called.

Sam Aguiar, one of Chappell’s attorneys, said Chappell and McLemore’s deaths both happened under “very suspicious circumstances” and demand greater oversight of the jail.

“It’s like they’re playing Russian roulette with lives in there,” he said. “It seems to me like they’re just crossing their fingers and saying, ‘Well, hopefully, time is going to be on our side, and they’re going to get better.’

“The problem is certain people are going to get worse.”

The Indiana State Police have not released Chappell’s cause of death.

Courier Journal investigation into the jail’s history uncovered a long record of overcrowding, lawsuits alleging medical negligence and a previous in-custody death which was ruled a suicide in May 2020.

What happened to Joshua McLemore?

Before his hospitalization, McLemore had been held at the Jackson County Jail since July 20 for criminal mischief and battery against a public safety official — a misdemeanor and low-level felony, respectively.

McLemore’s arrest stems from a visit to Schneck Medical Center, according to a probable cause affidavit, though it does not say why he was initially hospitalized.

According to the affidavit written by Seymour Police Office Cody Teltow, a nurse found McLemore laying on the ground in his hospital room. When she attempted to help him up, he yanked her hair.

Officers shackled McLemore at the wrists and ankles before they transferred him to Teltow’s car.

“Before getting him inside my vehicle, Joshua bit a chunk of paint from my passenger front door at the top corner of the door above the window,” the officer wrote.

Teltow also said McLemore used his feet to crack the car’s windshield.

McLemore was held in the Jackson County Jail as a pretrial detainee until he was released on own recognizance Aug. 8.

The release form he was unable to sign has no timestamp, but it is witnessed by Travis Thompson, who has been a jail officer for nearly three years, according to a personnel list provided by Jackson County in response to an open-records request.

Portions of McLemore’s medical records Budge provided The Courier Journal show he was diagnosed with a litany of serious conditions Aug. 8 after being admitted to Schneck: high levels of sodium and low levels of oxygen in his blood, with muscle tissue breaking down and failing kidneys.

The reports also noted “AMS,” or altered mental status, and encephalopathy, a disease that alters the brain’s structure or function.

Because McLemore needed more specialized care, he was airlifted to a hospital in Cincinnati, where he died.

The Hamilton County Coroner’s office in Ohio is handling McLemore’s autopsy and has subpoenaed his blood samples from his admission to Schneck at around 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. Aug. 8.

Since McLemore’s death, Budge has sent letters to Meyer and Everhart, demanding the preservation of documents, recordings and other materials relating to McLemore’s incarceration in “anticipation of potential litigation.”

What we know about the Jackson County Jail

The day after McLemore was booked into the Jackson County Jail, Aguiar announced that he, Lonita Baker and Ben Crump represent Chappell’s family as they tried to learn what happened to the Louisville woman.

At a news conference on July 22, Baker said Chappell had told her family if she couldn’t get out of jail, she was afraid she’d die there.

“She went in a young, 23-year-old mother, healthy, and she should have returned to her family that same way,” Baker said.

Based on interviews with other people held in jail with Chappell and an ambulance report, Aguiar said she was visibly sick and in distress starting July 15, but staff did not help her.

When an ambulance was finally called the next day, EMTs observed Chappell was weak and had abdominal tenderness as well as jaundice or dried bile on her skin. She died at Schneck on July 16.

In May 2020, 30-year-old Tobias Au also died at Schneck after being locked up in the Jackson County Jail. He was found unresponsive in a bathroom on May 10 and died at the hospital May 17. His death was ruled a suicide.

Indiana State Police refused to release the investigative file into Au’s death to The Courier Journal.

There have also been numerous state and federal lawsuits against the jail and sheriff’s office alleging unnecessary strip searches, unsanitary conditions and medical neglect.

A 2014 suit alleges the jail staff ignored an incarcerated man’s health issues for about two months in 2013. When he was finally hospitalized, he was diagnosed with endocarditis, sepsis and his kidneys had shut down.

He required open-heart surgery and spent more than a month in the hospital. That case settled before trial.

Reach Tessa Duvall at tduvall@courier-journal.com and 502-582-4059. Twitter: @TessaDuvall.

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