Lawsuit: Jail guard ignored inmate's pain before he died

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NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A Virginia jail guard ignored an inmate's cries of pain and medical personnel did nothing to help him before he died, according to a lawsuit filed by his estate.

The lawsuit said that when one officer at Hampton Road Regional Jail spotted Victor Rhea Fountain curled up in the fetal position, he shrugged and moved on to the next cell, The Virginian-Pilot reported Tuesday.

Fountain died Feb. 23, 2019, of a bowel obstruction, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit seeking nearly $17 million in damages names the jail, its medical provider and several workers as defendants. A jail official wasn't immediately available for comment, and medical provider Wellpath didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment Tuesday.

Mark Krudys, an attorney for the estates of Fountain and several other inmates who have died in the facility, declined to comment, referring all questions to the lawsuit itself.

The regional jail that opened in 1998 to take inmates from Norfolk, Portsmouth, Hampton, Newport News and later Chesapeake has been beset with a series of inmate deaths.

The U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation into the jail after the Aug. 19, 2015, death of Jamycheal Mitchell, 24. It eventually concluded in December 2018 that staffers were violating the constitutional rights of inmates.

At least 22 inmates have died at the regional jail since 2015, causing at least seven families now to pursue wrongful death lawsuits in state and federal court. Three lawsuits have been settled, costing the jail, its medical provider and the state more than $4.5 million.

Fountain died 28 days after his arrest in Chesapeake on three counts of attempted malicious bodily injury of law enforcement officers and 10 days after his transfer from the Chesapeake City Jail.

The lawsuit alleges the jail’s medical director assigned a licensed practical nurse the task of examining Fountain before his death even though she “lacked the training and credentials to examine and diagnose him independently.”

While meeting the regional jail nurse, Fountain apparently presented with a “dangerously low pulse and complaints of abdominal pain," the lawsuit said. The nurse, however, failed to note he had previously undergone a small bowel resection or adjust his care, according to the lawsuit.

The nurse wrote in Fountain’s file that she would “refer to MD,” but the lawsuit said there is no record he was ever examined by a doctor. The nurse also indicated Fountain’s abdomen was not tender to the touch one day before he vomited a large amount of bile and died.