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A 'policy of deliberate indifference' alleges lawsuit brought against Mecklenburg sheriff

Mecklenburg's main jail uptown continues to struggle making safety checks on inmates.
Lisa Worf
/
WFAE
Mecklenburg's main jail uptown continues to struggle to make safety checks on inmates.

Another federal lawsuit accuses Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden of “deliberate indifference” — this time in the death of a jail inmate two years ago.

Russell Fincham, 25, was booked into the jail on July 3, 2022. During the booking process, the lawsuit says he told a nurse he was a daily user of fentanyl and had just ingested a large amount of it. He was placed in a detox unit. Fincham died three days later.

The lawsuit, brought this week by his parents, says McFadden’s “policy of deliberate indifference” to the safety and medical needs of inmates resulted in their son’s death. It claims the pattern was so widespread that it became the department’s “unwritten policy.” It also says McFadden told staff he has to “cover it up” when he receives delayed reports of issues in the jail.

Jail staff missed at least seven state-mandated safety checks the day before Fincham died. The lawsuit says those that were completed were done hastily without officers walking into Fincham’s pod and observing him.

The morning of his death, the lawsuit says Fincham was convulsing, vomiting a black substance and having a hard time breathing. That day, a daily sergeant’s report indicates there were 17 staff allotted to his floor, but only eight were on duty.

Once an officer saw Fincham in distress, the lawsuit says it took an hour for a nurse to arrive. Medical staff administered the opioid-overdose-reversing drug Naloxone half an hour later, the lawsuit says, after they realized Fincham had no pulse.

Wellpath, the company that delivered medical services is also named as a defendant, along with individual staff members. Individual detention officers are named as well.

The jail has been under scrutiny by state inspectors for repeatedly missing safety checks. A total of five inmates died at the jail in 2022. The state cited missed safety rounds in four out of five of those deaths.

In December 2021, a state inspection found that inadequate staffing posed an “imminent threat” to the safety of inmates.

Frustrated with his staff, the lawsuit says McFadden told them he has to “cover it up” when they don’t relay timely reports of issues in the jail.

According to the lawsuit, McFadden told staff: “If you really know what all goes on instead of what people telling you, you’ll be a little upset too . . . because when you find out, you don’t find out the same day it happened . . . you find out two weeks when it happened, and then I have to cover it up . . . I have to deal with and then I got to say this is what happened y’all . . .”

The sheriff’s office says it does not comment on pending litigation.

In April, McFadden said state inspectors are unfairly singling out the Mecklenburg County Jail. He says he disagrees with how inspectors evaluate safety checks. As far as staffing levels, the sheriff’s office has said jail reports don’t take into account other officers who help respond to incidents and cover breaks.

The sheriff’s office reached a settlement in April regarding a 2021 suicide death. Devin Haley, 41, was found hanging in his cell. His family sued the sheriff’s office and Wellpath. According to the lawsuit, Haley never received the antidepressants he had repeatedly asked for and was prescribed. A state inspection indicated officers missed several safety checks in the 24 hours before they found his body. The sheriff’s office says it contributed $275,000 — or 10% of the total settlement.

A federal lawsuit filed in May accused the sheriff of “deliberate indifference” in the death of Karon Golightly in the Mecklenburg County Jail in May 2021.

 

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Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.